In view of the unusually severe onset of winter in the Middle East, the President of Caritas Lebanon, Simon Faddoul, is very concerned about the situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Talking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN), he said on Saturday: “The temperature is around the zero mark. In many areas where there are refugees snow has fallen. Our heart is with these poor people, who first had to suffer the war and then had to flee and lost their homes. Many of their children do not have adequate clothing. There’s a lack of warm blankets, food and heaters. They stay in their tents, in the shells of buildings or in provisional accommodation and pray that the storm will subside without destroying their shelter. In brief: It’s a miserable life they are leading at present.”
The aid organizations in Lebanon were doing their best to help the people, Faddoul explained. The Lebanese government was doing what it could. But this was not much, Faddoul continued. “We are willing to provide emergency aid. We did that last year when heavy rainfall washed away the refugees’ tents and belongings. Now our workers are distributing blankets, clothing, fuel oil and food wherever they can.”
According to Faddoul there are currently 1.1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which itself has a population of only about four million. “We are appealing to all people of good will and with a generous heart to acknowledge this dramatic situation and to make sure that the hardships of the Syrian people are not forgotten. They need our support. The relief organisations in turn need support in alleviating the pain and suffering of so many people,” Faddoul said.
The situation in Jordan is also a cause of concern. After Lebanon it is here that most Syrians have sought refuge. The United Nations gives the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan as over 400,000. Omar Abawi of the Jordanian Caritas told ACN on Saturday: “Because of the winter the situation is dramatic. The people are not used to these temperatures and are not ready for them. We help where we can with blankets, clothing and heating material. At the present time we are preparing an emergency program for about 70,000 people.”
According to Abawi there were no Christians in the large refugee camps. These were mostly being accommodated in church facilities or with relatives, or they have rented apartments. “They are afraid they would be attacked in the camps. They are suspected of being on the side of the regime. It is therefore not possible to guarantee their safety in the camps.” Since June 2011 about 190,000 refugees have been registered with Caritas Jordan. “We help regardless of religion,” Abawi continued. Among these refugees about 500 families were Christians.
Recently the winter storm “Alexa”, which had brought in a cold front Wednesday last to the Middle East, has subsided. The thaw which set in with persistently low temperatures has now turned the area where many refugee tents were located, into a quagmire.
ACN is supporting refugee relief inside and outside Syria. Andrzej Halemba, head of ACN’s Middle East department, said on Tuesday: “It isn’t easy to organize charitable work in Syria and in neighbouring countries. Many places are inaccessible to relief organizations. “Aid to the Church in Need” has the ability to make use of Church channels, enabling us get to the places where help is needed.
Since the start of the conflict we have been able to provide help to Syria of almost 4.4 million dollars, thanks to our ACN donors. This year alone, we have spent close to 2.2 million dollars in aid. In 2013, we supported refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with $290,000.”
Christianity without love is a lie
Father Halemba went on to stress that hunger was the greatest hazard the Syrians faced. “Eighty per cent fear that their food will run out. The prices are exploding: in some places the price of bread has risen fivefold. Even the basic foodstuffs are difficult to come by and hardly affordable. Without help from outside many will not survive.”
Father Halemba sees the intentions of ACN founder Father Werenfried van Straaten being fulfilled through this situation. “Father Werenfried, our founder, once wrote: Christianity without love is a lie. Now is the time to prove our love to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in such great need.”
According to Father Halemba the prospects for 2014 are bleak. “75 per cent of the 22 million Syrians will need humanitarian aid in the coming year. We often hear the question: Why has the world forgotten us?”
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada