Mike Noyes, CAFOD’s Head of Humanitarian Programmes for Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, writes:
“Last year, I had a husband I loved, a family and a home. Now I have lost it all.”
Fadiya’s eyes and her whole demeanour told the story of the trauma she had been through, as her comfortable middle-class existence in Syria was shattered and replaced by life as a refugee. As we spoke, her aunt sat in the corner of the tent, her back towards me. She was in formal mourning for her husband, and according to custom was not able to meet and speak with men from outside her family circle.
Fadiya fled Syria with her aunt, her two sisters and their children after their home was destroyed by shelling, which killed her uncle and two cousins. Her own husband had been killed by shelling a few months before that, leaving her to bring up her two children alone.
Now the family are living in a shelter made of timber and plastic sheeting on the edge of a field in Lebanon’s Bekaah valley. Their household is one of about thirty in a small tented settlement, only a few kilometres from the Syrian border, where the barren, rocky hills meet the flat plains of Lebanon’s prime agricultural region.
Many other refugee families live nearby, renting vacant homes or agricultural buildings, or staying with Lebanese families who have received them into their homes. Most have come from Homs, but there are also families from Damascus and as far north as Aleppo.
Fadiya has found a few days work here and there, helping on a farm. It pays $4 per day, which doesn’t go far when you have fled with only the clothes on your back and when your youngest child is sick.
With new refugee arrivals outpacing the capacity of the United Nations to receive and register them, a vulnerable family can wait three months before they start getting official help. Many are struggling to cope. Our partner Caritas Lebanon is working to fill that gap, providing essential support to refugee families before they get registered and appear in the official statistics.
Caritas Lebanon’s team of social workers carries out daily visits to settlement sites and other areas in the Bekaah valley to monitor new arrivals and to ensure that those in need get support.
They’re able to provide foods like rice, pasta, cheese, beans and sugar, as well as hygiene kits with soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and towels and nappies for babies. Over the winter they also provided stoves for heating and heavy duty plastic sheeting to help keep the tents as warm and dry as possible.
Caritas Lebanon has been able to support about 3,500 families in the area so far, and is currently registering about 50 new families a day.
I could see clearly that Fadiya and her sister already knew the Caritas Lebanon team well, calling them by name. They obviously had trust and confidence in them. Even though they are still in shock from what they experienced before they fled and even though they feel vulnerable living in a tent, the relationship with the Caritas Lebanon team is helping to start the process of adaptation and recovery.
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we’ve been able to make a strong commitment to support Caritas Lebanon’s vital work. And, because this refugee crisis is traumatic for everyone, we are also looking at how we can help Caritas’s excellent team of staff deal with some of the difficult issues they themselves have to face.