Caritas Lebanon: desperate appeal for help for Syrian refugees

2013-04-17 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Caritas Lebanon is launching a desperate appeal for international assistance to meet the needs of an overwhelming number of Syrian refugees coming over the border. President of Caritas Lebanon, Fr. Simon Faddoul tells Tracey McClure “the situation is getting worse. It’s getting disastrous.”
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Humanitarian agencies and the Lebanese government itself, he says are increasingly unable, without international help, to house the refugees, feed and clothe them. Medical teams are also concerned about a rise in disease under the precarious sanitary conditions.

“What we have been seeing is unbelievable, reports Fr. Simon. “The numbers are growing in an incredible way. The Lebanese government today in the news is estimating the numbers to be 1.2 million people coming from Syria to Lebanon which means actually more needs, more potential problems of all sorts… and especially, especially the lodging (is a problem). You cannot find a place to house these people. The housing is a very problematic thing; resources are getting all the more scarce. The United Nations has launched an appeal and has really made a warning in that respect. We as NGO’s, we are doing the same because we haven’t had any practical, tangible help so far. The Lebanese government has launched an appeal to fund its activities. Nobody has given the Lebanese government any penny yet. So it’s very problematic. We don’t know where we are heading.”

Fr. Simon says the sudden, chaotic influx of Syrians over recent weeks has been accompanied by a rise in crime and fear.

“The Lebanese people are so afraid of this presence, this massive presence throughout Lebanon – in a chaotic manner, without any organization – while the security in Lebanon is not so tight, and so maintained.. so people have their fears of all kinds: socially and security wise and economically.

He describes the impact of the refugee presence as increasingly “strangling” to the Lebanese and their livelihoods.

And people are suffering. We are witnessing epidemics, tuberculosis, leishmaniasis (an untreatable sand fly-born skin infection that leaves disfiguring scarring)… things, diseases that I have never heard of personally.”

Asked if he fears a renewal of the kind of violence that has periodically erupted between Sunnis, supporters of the Syrian opposition, and pro-Syrian regime Alawites, in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, Fr. Simon says “Most certainly, most certainly! Already, the Ministry of the Interior has issued a report which (states that the crime rate has gone up), robberies and whatever else, (by) 120%. And almost, I would say 95% of those (crimes) committed are by Syrians. So the fear is real. And then, the manifestation of kidnapping, every now and then, it’s also scaring people…”

Has the fighting spread from Tripoli to elsewhere in the country?

“No, this is limited to Tripoli, between the Sunnite and the Alawites. They are two (local) neighborhoods (which have been fighting against each other)… Things are…like a fire under the ashes as we say in Lebanese. You remove the ash bit and you’d be surprised (at what lies underneath). Things are not stable…And people say, ok, we live in a very secure zone now – stability, nobody wants war, whatever, all this stuff. But you know better than me that when (violence) breaks out, it breaks out.”

Fr. Simon launches an appeal to the international community and to those listening to Vatican Radio “to all those good hearted people, please, please listen to the suffering of the Syrian people inside Syria and around in the neighboring countries, especially in Lebanon. Lebanon (has) four million inhabitants – we are hosting 1.2 million Syrian people which means more than 25% of the (Lebanese) population has become Syrian. And it’s really crazy, from the humanitarian side, it’s getting uncontrollable. We need every bit of help we can get to reach out to these people and try to find some durable solutions at least for the coming couple of years until the problems are solved and the people can return to their homes.”