Tag Archives: crisis

Syria crisis: taking shelter in a carpenter’s workshop

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Lebanon - refugee taking shelterAlan Thomlinson, CAFOD’s Emergency Programme Manager for the Syria Crisis, writes:

Near the city of Tripoli in the north of Lebanon I went to visit a Syrian refugee family whose plight illustrated many of the challenges facing those who have fled from the war.

In a tiny room at the back of a carpenter’s shed, three generations of the family were sharing a simple lunch. Grandparents, mother, father, daughter and son were all crammed into the workshop, finishing off their meal. The food didn’t look like it would cover six people, but it was all they could afford.

The family were happy to talk to me, but didn’t want to be identified for fear of what might happen to their friends and family back home if they were seen to be commenting on the crisis.

The room they were sheltering in was tiny, with the mattresses piled up against the walls while the family wasn’t sleeping. It was such a small space that it was difficult to understand how they all fitted in. When I asked how they managed it they said they didn’t have a choice.

I worry for my children

The mother said: “I worry for my children. My young son is struggling at school here. He is now having to start again as all lessons are in English, which he never studied in Syria. My daughter has just finished her degree, but what chance does she now have of finding work?

“We are the lucky ones. At least we have a room and my husband has some work. Those people living in tents and outside are suffering more.”

Our partner Caritas Lebanon said this family offered an insight into the multiple challenges being faced by the region as a whole. The lack of adequate shelter has meant that many have suffered in the cold temperatures over winter.

The son’s challenges with school highlight the difficulties faced even by the lucky children who are able to access education. Many schools are now running two school days – one in the morning for Lebanese children and one in the afternoon for Syrians. But Lebanese schools work to a different curriculum, in a different language, and many Syrian children are struggling to cope with the changes.

The cost of going to school – even the cost of paying for the bus – is also prohibitive to many families, who have to choose between demands on their limited savings or income.

No medicine

Lebanon healthcareAccess to healthcare is also becoming a major issue for all refugees. The grandfather complained that he was not able to access his normal medicines, as the family have now used up all their savings. The cold and damp conditions are adding to his health concerns. The cost of healthcare isn’t the only challenge – many people can’t afford the cost of getting to hospital.

The family were extremely grateful for the job that the father had been able to find in the carpenter’s workshop. The sheer number of refugees in Lebanon has meant that the labour market has been flooded with people looking for work. This has meant a drop in salaries for everyone, including the Lebanese, and has made the competition for what work there is even more severe.

To address these multiple challenges, our partners across the region have been working to provide much-needed food supplies, shelter materials and warm clothing to help families keep out the cold, support with the costs of accessing healthcare services, and cash grants to help families cover the costs of their daily lives, including rent payments.

However, as we approach the third anniversary of the beginning of the conflict, the sheer scale of this crisis means that much more work needs to be done.

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Syria crisis: children are the key to peace

Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Danny Lawson/PA Wire

by Catherine Cowley

Every Syrian refugee I’ve met has a story to tell. From the woman who describes fleeing to the border as warplanes bomb the road ahead, to the man arrested in the middle of the night in front of his young children, every refugee has a story seared on their memories, which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

This includes the children. More than one million children have fled Syria as refugees – the equivalent of the population of Birmingham. Children who used to feel safe in their homes and schools have lost everything. Some have been injured, others have seen their parents killed or arrested. Most have heard planes circling, tanks rolling by, and machine-guns going off.

Malek, a Syrian refugee who is now working with child refugees in Turkey, told me:

“The war has stolen the smiles of children: their joy, their laughter, and their happiness. It has stolen the things they need: their daily food, their games, and their sleep. All those children are missing out on everything related to life. They are surviving but not living. When someone is only surviving, without all those things they need to have a decent and good life, they die inside.”

Young children cope with difficult situations very differently from adults. They rarely talk about the way they feel or tell stories like the ones I’ve heard from older refugees. They show their feelings through the way they act. Some are withdrawn and quiet, others are angry and aggressive. Some draw pictures showing what is on their mind. 8720778094_50831b3d7b_o

Malek remembers how traumatised newly arrived children were when she crossed the border into Turkey: “Those first days in the tents, we gave the children paper to draw on,” she told me. “They drew tanks, missiles, weapons and security centres – things that were sources of fear for them. Even when playing with Lego bricks they would make guns and point them at us, saying: ‘We will kill you.’”

Sinam, another Syrian volunteer, said: “Children are the victims of all of this. You can see how they have been affected, even my young cousin of three years. He had a really bad reaction to the power cuts in Syria. We were always in the dark. So when he came to Turkey he started lighting up the rooms all the time. The lights had to be on all the time.”

How do you enable children to tell their own stories and understand what they have been through? How do you help children to make sense of the loss of their homes and their loved ones? How do they process that this is not the result of a one-off act of nature, but deliberate acts of violence by other people?

Over the last year, I’ve been helping CAFOD’s local partners to set up “child-friendly spaces” on the Turkish side of the border. These spaces allow children much-needed structure and routine, as well as a chance to play, relax and behave like children again. They provide a safe, supportive environment in which children can tell their own stories, express their feelings and start the long process of recovering a sense of normality.

8720778898_341d4eabc4_oAhmed, who volunteers in one of the spaces, said:

“The child-friendly spaces have been a real success. The children seem happier. They are only supposed to come to the spaces twice a week, but some want to come every day. Over the last few months I’ve seen it’s possible to make children smile again. It’s wonderful and fulfilling when we can do that for them.

“We had one child who didn’t want to come to the space at first. He was crying and clinging to his parents. But after working with him for a few months he started enjoying coming. And then one day he told his parents to go away and leave him there! This is a good thing. We need to give these kids happiness. It’s the one thing we can do.”

Even if the war ended tomorrow, it would take years for communities in Syria to recover, to rebuild, and to achieve any sort of reconciliation. But thanks to the generous donations of Catholics in England and Wales, we are helping children to play, to be happy, and to find alternatives to violence – which gives refugees of all ages hope for the future. Many of the volunteers we work with have highlighted the fact that today’s children – the next generation – will be vital in achieving a sustainable peace.

441Malek said: “I believe children can do something for peace. The concept of peace comes out often in the way they draw and play now. They draw pictures of planes flying away from houses and not bombing them, and tanks turning away. They are starting step by step to love again.”

Catherine Cowley is one of CAFOD’s Emergency Response Officers, who specialises in child protection. Donate to CAFOD’s Syria Crisis appeal: cafod.org.uk/syriacrisis

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Syria crisis: Lebanon in winter

Scottish Catholic International Aid in Syria

Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Alan Thomlinson, CAFOD’s Emergency Manager for the Syria Crisis, writes:

As we wrap up for the cold weather in the UK, I am reminded of my visit to Lebanon last week, seeing Syrian refugee children running around bare-footed in similar temperatures.

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The Middle East is often thought of as a year-round hot climate, but freezing temperatures and even snow in places are not uncommon. For those people having to live outside in tents, unfinished buildings or wherever they can find shelter it will be a harsh existence.

Last week I met up with our Lebanese and Syrian partners to discuss the work they are doing to help. They talked about the great challenges they were facing in terms of the sheer numbers of people in need of food, water, shelter and medical care, and the successes they had managed to achieve in reaching some of the most vulnerable people. Continue reading

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Voices from Syria: Hama

Please donate to our Syria Crisis appeal>>IMG_2994

My husband and I fled to Lebanon eight months ago because of the war in Syria. I was heavily pregnant. My daughter Maya was born just a few days after we arrived.

My husband does whatever he can to earn money for us – painting, cleaning, taking any work that is available – but sometimes it is not enough.

Healthcare in Lebanon is very expensive, and without help from CAFOD’s partner Caritas Lebanon we couldn’t afford medicine for our baby. Caritas Lebanon have given us free medicine and consultations. I go to their health centre every month for vaccinations or whenever Maya is sick.

We hope Maya will do well in the future. We think she will create her own destiny.

And I hope we will all be able to go back home to Syria soon. Most of all I miss my family. My parents are still in Syria, and it’s been a year since I saw them.

Hama is one of more than 1.8 million Syrians who have fled the country to escape the war.

We are working with local partners in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to provide food, shelter, medical supplies, clothes, blankets and counselling to those most in need.

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Syria crisis: refugees in Turkey

IMG_2033

Ahmed: “Even as we were moving, part of our house was destroyed by a bomb.”

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CAFOD’s Catherine Cowley writes:

It feels strange to do humanitarian work in Turkey. When I first drove down the dual carriageway from the international airport, past large apartment blocks and miles and miles of green countryside, I couldn’t help but be struck by the contrast with other emergency programmes I’ve been involved with.

Two years ago, I joined CAFOD as a trainee humanitarian officer. Since then, I’ve been based in Haiti and Kenya, where most of my experience has been of bumping along rutted, dusty roads, working with people you could see were living in poverty even before their lives were turned upside down by natural disasters.

The small Turkish town I’ve been working in recently, near the border with Syria, could hardly be more of a contrast. Everything seems stable, calm and prosperous: the shops are bustling with customers; the roads are teeming with vehicles; the scale of construction work is striking. Continue reading

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