Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada
The American threats to attack Syria have led temporarily to a rise in the numbers of refugees in Lebanon, as the President of the Lebanese organisation Caritas, Monsignore Simon Faddoul, explained to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need”. He said on Friday: “Now that the military strike has not materialized after all, the number of refugees has returned to its original level.”
The Lebanese government, Faddoul continued, estimated the number of Syrians in Lebanon as about 1.4 million. Of these, 1.1 million were refugees, and the rest had already been in the country when hostilities broke out. “If it comes to the decisive battle for Damascus there will be a refugee disaster,” is Faddoul’s great concern.
The large number of refugees in Lebanon were already having a destabilizing effect in the country. “The latest report of the World Bank showed what a disastrous effect the Syrian war was having on Lebanese society, security and economy,” the Caritas head stressed. According to the most recent estimates by the World Bank, the loss suffered by the Lebanese economy due to the conflict will amount to 7.5 billion US dollars by the end of the coming year. On top of this, Faddoul lamented, there were the social and security problems. “In this respect the future is a somber one.”
This priest of the Maronite Church stressed, however, that the number of those refugees who refused to register with the United Nations had fallen “considerably”. “Many have recognized that registration is the only way to obtain medical aid. Whereas previously 40 per cent failed to register, the figure is now 20 per cent”, according to Faddoul.
Women and children forced to beg or into prostitution
His organisation had to date been caring for about 125,000 refugees in the whole country with the support of “Aid to the Church in Need”. About 10,000 of these were Christians and the remainder Muslims. Faddoul was worried about the approach of winter. “We need everything: blankets, heating oil, clothing, food, hygiene articles, financial assistance for housing and so on. Our resources are never enough. But we are doing our best with what we can get.”
Sister Georgette Tannoury from the Community of the Good Shepherd (Bon Pasteur) also expressed her concern to “Aid to the Church in Need” in view of the destabilising effects of the Syrian conflict. She heads a walk-in clinic for refugees in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. The clinic looks after more than 150 Syrians daily, mostly women and children. “Aid to the Church in Need” supports her humanitarian work.
“The number of Syrians is very large,” according to Sister Georgette. “Children fill the streets and run between the cars begging. We’ve never experienced so many robberies and other crimes in the country as in the present year. The result is increasing frustration in Lebanon in the face of the many refugees. One lady reported to me that she was afraid of sending her daughter out onto the street to do the shopping.”
Unlike in Jordan, for example, Lebanon has no reception camps and so the refugees are spread throughout the country. “They often live in garages. Families who lived in large houses in Syria suddenly find themselves in a room with 15 other people. Their children reject this and prefer to live on the streets.”
The hardship, according to Sister Georgette, often forces people to take desperate measures. “One woman told me that her husband had forced her into prostitution to feed the family. Another father had sold his 13-year-old daughter to a 60-year-old man to get money. I hear stories like these all day long. May God take pity on his people. I thank “Aid to the Church in Need” for their support. We will continue to help the poorest of the poor.”