Val Morgan from the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) blogs on the Caritas Syrian refugee emergency response from Lebanon and Jordan
“Our home was destroyed and my brother-in-law killed when a bomb landed directly on our house. I survived as I was in another room from him. Many others were injured.” This was the terrifying story of 24-year old Zeinab who fled with her husband and two children from Maarret El Noman-Edeeb in Syria five months ago.
Zeinab was just one of a number of Syrians I met on my visit to the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Between 3,000 to 4,000 Syrians cross the border into Lebanon each day – many deeply traumatised, having seen family members killed and their homes destroyed. Official estimates of refugees now in the country stand at around 1.5 million. In a country where the total Lebanese population is 4 million, it is easy to imagine the huge impact the Syrian war is having on neighbouring countries.
Tensions between refugees and the host communities are rising and outbreaks of violence have occurred in several places, including Tripoli. One of the major issues is unemployment, with many Lebanese unable to get work as the refugees accept much less money for the same jobs as they are so desperate to provide food, shelter, clothing and medical care for their families. Another family I spoke to go out collecting and selling any recyclable rubbish they can find on the street. It still isn’t enough for them to support themselves.
Fr Simon Faddoul, the president of Caritas Lebanon told me, “There are immense numbers now. We try to mediate between the people – both Syrian and Lebanese. Our social workers are all over the country helping.”
Money being provided by Caritas agencies around the world is helping to provide food, clothing, blankets, temporary shelters, rent vouchers, trauma counselling and medical care. Since the conflict began in March 2011, Caritas Lebanon has helped over 125,000 people – that’s roughly 10 to 15 per cent of the Syrian population in the country.
We should be under no illusions. What is happening here is an abominable human tragedy on an almost unimaginable scale. Each family I met today has lost everything and their immediate future looks bleak at best. The fantastic work being done by Caritas is providing vital lifelines to many thousands but the continuing flow of newcomers is overwhelming the capacity and resources of those who are trying to help.
It is heart-breaking to listen to so many stories of people in such desperate situations. However, there was one beautiful moment when I met an elderly couple and their family in the Baddaoui camp. They fled Damascus one year ago. As I sat chatting with them a ten month old baby girl crawled into the room and joined them. The husband, Adnan, told me that it was their first grandchild. They beamed. I said I was so happy for them and offered my sincere congratulations. It really lifted my spirits, despite the proud grandfather adding that the baby had been born under the bombs of Aleppo.