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> 2013-07-03 14:58:39
CAFOD calls for aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, peace
(Vatican Radio) A team of aid and development workers from the U.K. based Catholic charity CAFOD has just returned from a fact finding mission among refugees in Lebanon, calling for negotiations, not weapons, to end the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Geoff O’Donoghue, CAFOD’s International Director, led the CAFOD team to meet refugees in the Bekaa Valley near the border with Syria. He said: “The people of Lebanon are showing extraordinary solidarity towards their neighbours. But it’s hard to overstate the impact that the war in Syria is having on the country, and on the region as a whole. At the moment there is no end in sight to conflict. The UK government should stop talking about sending arms to Syria, and instead step up the pressure for peace negotiations as soon as possible.”
CAFOD World News officer Nick Harrop described the conditions in which the refugees he saw living in Lebanon as “dire.” They’re often “living in makeshift camps, half-built apartment blocks and in places where no one else would want to live.”
“The impression I got was that Lebanon was being incredibly welcoming to the refugees but the scale of the crisis is just unbelievable. There are more than one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon now and the numbers are going up really fast. It’s a small country with a population of between 4 and 5 million and it’s really struggling to cope with these vast numbers.”
While life in some places like Beirut feels “normal,” he says, fighting erupted last week between Sunni and Shia militants in the southern port city of Sidon and violence has wracked the northern city of Tripoli as pro-opposition and pro-Assad groups bring the Syrian conflict into Lebanon itself.
“Generally, there’s a sense of tension and uncertainty about the future,” Harrop says. “There’s a lot of pressure on the Lebanese economy. People are worried about the impact these refugees are having and inevitably I think that’s leading to an increase in tension.”
In this interview with Tracey McClure, Harrop describes how one refugee family tries to bring normalcy to life in a half-built apartment and how dozens of others are forced to live in “appalling conditions” in a cow shed in the Bekaa Valley.
“CAFOD is supporting Caritas Lebanon who are providing food, clothes and health care and their teams of social workers go out and locate Syrian refugees and find out where they’re staying. They do a lot of excellent outreach work. I think the counselling they do, the psychological side of it is just so important. Some of the Caritas staff I spoke to said: ‘we’ve lived through wars; we know what the impact is of suddenly losing your home. So I think they really prioritize that kind of social side of it and just making sure that children, who’ve seen their parents killed, or their homes destroyed, have got some space to…deal with those feelings…with trained professionals.”
Asked what he thinks are the greatest needs of Syrian refugees now, Harrop says money, clothes and health care - especially for small children – but peace is the most hoped-for gift. “Negotiations,” he said, “are the only way this conflict can end.”