Conditions are difficult for Syrian refugees, water covers the floors of basic appartments, employment is not permitted and there is a lack of basics like nappies and other personal hygiene equipment.
Photos by Patrick Nicholson/Caritas. Photos by Patrick Nicholson/Caritas

By Patrick Nicholson

Syrian refugees continue to flee into neighbouring Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. They’re trying to escape fighting between government and opposition forces that began last March. Caritas members in the region are looking to respond to the growing needs of the refugees.

Living conditions are difficult. Hamid* brought his wife and children from Tal Kalakh in Syria to Wadi Khaled just across the border in northern Lebanon as soon as fighting started in March 2011. He said he feared that the situation would go from “bad to very bad” because of sectarianism and thought it safer to leave while he could.

His family of six have lived for six months in one of the rooms of an old abandoned school building. Fifteen families live in the school. The rooms are tiny, damp and cold. His wife couldn’t cope so she went home at one point. “I would have preferred to die in Syria than live like this,” she said. She returned because she missed her children.

They have a three-month-old baby. The family receive food and medical help, but they need money for nappies and milk. Hamid is resigned to his fate. He will not go back until the situation in Syria changes, but he doesn’t hold out hope of a fast solution.

Wadi Khaled is just across the border to Syria and about 30 minutes from Homs. At night, you can hear the sound of the shelling. It upsets the children. “I want to go home,” said a nine-year-old boy. “There is nowhere to play here and I have no friends. I want to sleep in my own bedroom.”

Caritas Lebanon has also been providing food, fuel for heaters, blankets and other relief items to Syrian refugees . There are some 26000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with more crossing the borders daily. Caritas Lebanon will help over 2500 Syrian families over the next three months as well as Lebanese hosts.

In Beirut, Hiba collects scrap metal from the rubbish that litters the streets to support her family. She lives with her five children in a dank apartment. She fled Syria 6 months ago. Her husband is deaf and can’t find work. She collects just enough to cover food and rent, but not enough for her youngest boy to receive the surgery he needs to stop going deaf too.

In Syria, they lived a decent life. Her husband had a job at a coffee stand and her children went to school. Now their old home has been destroyed. She says she just got news that two of her brothers, their wives and three of the children, aged 4, 5 and 6 years old, had been murdered. She said they’d been beheaded.

As well as food and other relief items, they are providing counselling to the refugees. But for some cases, the trauma is too great. Fatima* is a 42-year-old Syrian who came to a Caritas shelter in Beirut after escaping Homs in February. Slowly her story emerged as she spoke to social workers. Her father and mother were killed by snipers. Her brothers died in the shelling. She says she saw two of her nieces, 22 and 19 years old, raped by soldiers in front of her and then, “like monsters”, they killed them.

Social workers did what they could to help her. Sometimes the woman was alert, but more frequently she would be distracted, listless. A psychologist who works in the shelter said that Fatima was suffering from post-traumatic shock.

After 12 days, she left to find family in Beirut. Her Caritas social worker says she wasn’t really aware of her surroundings when she went, she was alone and vulnerable. “I wanted to do more,” said the social worker. “Her eyes were asking for help, but she said she wanted to leave so we could not stop her.”

Caritas Jordan is reporting similar personal stories of tragedy. There are 10-15,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. Caritas Jordan is providing food, blankets and heaters. In early March, Caritas staff in Jordan provided aid to 280 Syrian families and 60 Jordanian families in Mafraq and Rantha.

There will be more distributions as Caritas partners such as Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has pledged to provide Syrian refugees in Mafraq and Ramtha. They’re sending two shipping containers of 5830 school kits, 6900 hygiene kits, 7350 blankets and 1,229 relief kits to Jordan where supplies will be distributed by Caritas with an estimated cost of $250,000.

Caritas will be distributing a new UNHCR shipment of blankets, bed linen set, pillows, quilts, towels, plastic mats, jerry cans, sanitary napkins, mattresses and heaters. This batch is expected to assist new 54 Syrian families registered with the agency in Mafraq and to 30 single men and 18 single females. More than 600 Syrian families and around 3200 individuals have been registered with Caritas Jordan so far.