As the fighting intensifies throughout Syria, thousands of refugees continue to pour over the border. According to the latest figures from UNHCR (the UN refugee agency), there are 100,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered and over double that figure not registered.
“I see more people and more despair,” says Hombline Dulière, a social worker for Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center. “At the beginning of the summer most of the refugees I met thought they would be back in Syria in a matter of weeks. Now, for many people, the realisation that the situation will last longer, affects them deeply,” she said.
Caritas staff and its volunteers are working around the clock to provide assistance to the refugees. However, as winter approaches, living conditions are getting precarious.
Najla Chahda, director of Caritas Migrant Center, says, “Temperatures in the Bekaa Valley at night are around 8 degrees Celsius. In the coming weeks they will drop below zero, many tents are not equipped to cope with the winter rain and people will get very cold.”
In the south of the country, the number of refugees is also increasing. Many of the new arrivals are hoping to find better work opportunities. However, the reality is quite grim. Caritas social workers are concerned that the assistance available is inadequate and living conditions are poor and unhygienic. Unfortunately, Caritas Lebanon is unable to provide any shelter assistance at the moment, due to a lack of funds.
Caritas is assisting the refugee population mainly with food and non-food items. Winter blankets, mattresses, and warm clothes are much in demand as well as heating fuel. So far Caritas has been distributing assistance to 5,000 Syrian families and is hoping to scale up its winter support efforts.
Health care is offered through Caritas mobile clinics where nursing, paediatric and gynaecological care is provided and medication dispensed.
In addition to the shelter and winterisation needs, Caritas Lebanon is facing a major challenge to support the education of displaced children.
“Syrian children are facing two issues; first the Lebanese curriculum is done in three languages, Arabic, French and English whilst the Syrian system is mainly done in Arabic. The second issue is that parents are not enrolling their children for either lack of funds or because they feel they should work and help their family,” says Najla .
Caritas is taking this issue to heart and is registering as many children as possible in order to get them back into schools and so re-establish a sense of normalcy in their otherwise dire situation. Caritas Lebanon is partnering with UNHCR and UNICEF and promoting the registration and channelling of children to local schools and associations.
Caritas will give 11,000 tuition grants and provide students with bags, uniforms, book and stationery vouchers. They are also starting new activities made up of 50 young volunteers covering the Bekaa . This group will visit Syrian families, provide warm clothes for the children and organise recreational activities.
Each of the Syrian refugees has a tragic tale to tell. The deadly civil war raging in their country has forced them away from all they knew and loved. For most, their homes have gone, their neighbourhoods have been destroyed and their families have been split and shattered.
It will take a long time for them to piece their lives together; in the meantime they will need all the help and support they can get.