For World Refugee Day, CAFOD communications officer, Mark Chamberlain reflects on attitudes towards refugees
In the past fortnight a time machine took me back to the late 1980s. I was sitting watching my favourite tea-time programme: a re-run, in glorious Technicolor, of a McCarthy-era, American sci-fi series.
The meek, unsuspecting earthlings were being duped again, by the cold, cunning aliens. More invaders had landed in their town and were taking over. But the only people that could see this were a small boy who kept shouting for people to listen…and me.
Mark Chamberlain is a communications officer with CAFOD. He spent time with refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in December 2015. On International Families Day, he writes about meeting some of the families there.
Razir is a 40-year-old mother of five. It was just after 11 in the morning when I visited her tent.
She offered for me to sit down on the only blanket the family had. I declined, blew into my hands to keep them warm and chose the bare floor instead. It was like sitting on ice.
Hannah Remm is a youth worker at The Briars, the residential youth centre for the Diocese of Nottingham. Over the past year Hannah has been involved with CAFOD’s ambassador scheme, and recently she gathered with other youth leaders to spend time reflecting on the current refugee crisis and CAFOD’s response in Syria and Europe.
As a part of our CAFOD Ambassadors scheme, we a day at the CAFOD office at Romero House discussing the topic of refugees. We looked at the language we associate with refugees, the stories that we had heard in the news and on social media along with other information about the European refugee crisis. Some of the things discussed did shock me a little, especially when we looked at how often the media portrays refugees in in a dehumanising way, such as the refugees in Calais living in ‘The Jungle’ camp, or politicians referring to them arriving in ‘swarms’. As a group we realised that the language we use is so important. Refugees are still people – people with families, emotions, hope and dreams just like us. Continue reading “Youth leaders: Hannah reflects on the European refugee crisis”
Nana Anto-Awuakye is CAFOD’s World News Manager. She recently met families living in the Bekka refugee camp in Lebanon as part of CAFOD’s Lost Family Portaits project.
Last Christmas, various family members snapped away on their latest mobile phone cameras, and we all dutifully posed for the camera. I asked for the unflattering photos of me to be deleted, my sister refused saying, “It’s Christmas, and we are all together.”
Only a few weeks earlier I was in Lebanon’s Bekka valley, just nine kilometres from the Syrian border. I was working with our partner Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre, the photographer Dario Mitidieri, and the creative agency M&C Saatchi to photograph family portraits of Syrian refugees inside some of the informal camp settlements in the Bekka.
Tabitha Ross is a CAFOD freelancer who works in Lebanon. On International Day of Peace she tells us about Eman and Hanigal – two mothers who have been forced to leave their homes in Syria because of the ongoing conflict.
Sitting on a blanket on the grass in the warmth of the sun, Eman looks shell-shocked to find herself in Lebanon, safe from the fear of violence for the first time in nearly four years. When I meet her, she has been here just over two weeks.
Despite coming from Daraa, the region of Syria where the uprising first began on 15 March 2011, and which has seen bitter fighting and bombing, Eman only decided to flee the country this year.
I ask what was the final straw, after so much suffering, that pushed her to leave. With tears in her eyes she said: “At the start of the war my husband disappeared, so I didn’t want to leave because I had the idea that he would come back. But in February my house was bombed and destroyed, so I decided to come here.”
Eman tells me how she and her four children spent three days on the road from Daraa to Damascus. Reaching the capital, they spent two nights sleeping in the freezing street. Finally a taxi driver took pity on them and brought them here to Lebanon, where she is staying with a cousin in an unfinished breeze block construction in the Bekaa Valley.
Four years since the start of the Syria crisis, Nick Harrop, CAFOD’s World News Officer, looks at what life is like for those living in Syria.
“I am worried for my children,” says a mother who fled to Lebanon. “They need to get an education. But I don’t feel safe to go home. Sadly I feel there is no future for my children in Syria now.”
“For four years, we have been living in the depths of the cold in a bloody war,” says a CAFOD partner delivering aid in Syria. “War has left us without any way to defend ourselves against the cold. We have no electricity most of the time, no fuel and no gas. We have no way to stay warm apart from putting on many layers of clothes, which don’t help so much when it’s minus eight degrees.”
“We used to have a home and a settled life,” says a father who has fled to a refugee camp in Jordan. “Our children went to school each day. But now…” – he shakes his head – “there is nothing left.”
How the crisis started
It is four years since a small group of demonstrators staged a protest against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Within days, the protests spread, and several people were killed. It was a serious political crisis, and a significant moment in the so-called Arab Spring, but few would have imagined that it would turn into the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the twenty-first century. Continue reading “Syria crisis: what’s it like to live without light?”
15 March sees the Syria crisis enter its fourth year. As the crisis continues to deepen, and the human suffering is greater than ever before, we would like to introduce you to two families who have been affected by the conflict in Syria. With money raised by CAFOD supporters across England and Wales our partner, Caritas Lebanon, is able to support Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict to Lebanon, with vital food, health and education services.
As part of the #WithSyria campaign CAFOD is calling for world leaders to find a political agreement to end the conflict.
Abir and Tony are Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon in 2011, when the conflict intensified in their country. Thirteen months ago they had they had triplets that were born ten weeks premature. With support from CAFOD partner Caritas Lebanon and from the UN Refugee Agency – UNHCR the babies received the vital hospital care they needed, and today all three children are healthy. Continue reading “Syrian crisis fourth anniversary: meet two families who fled to Lebanon”
Carmenza Alvarez is a human rights defender in Colombia and works for an organisation supported by CAFOD and Caritas, Women’s Initiative for Peace. The role is a dangerous one, in 2014 alone 614 human rights defenders were attacked and 55 killed.
For International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March, Carmenza discusses inequality and being trapped in the middle of a fifty-year conflict. She recently spent time in Europe as part of a joint CAFOD, Caritas Colombia, ABColombia and EC project, which sought to help protect human rights defenders in Colombia, with a particular focus on land restitution claimants, women and minority groups.
“In 1991 I was working in a restaurant. It was in an area frequented by the left-wing revolutionary group, FARC. My son was at school and studying. When he finished for the day, a group would come for him and supposedly take him to play football.
Everyone in Gaza has a story. A story of longstanding hardship, of uncertainty, of loss and of hard-earned survival.
The 50 days of conflict last summer – which gave rise to Israeli bombardments, Palestinian rocket attacks and ground fighting – took their toll, killing more than 2,200 people, destroying over 20,000 homes and countless livelihoods. More than 2,000 of these people were Palestinian civilians, including 519 children.
In December, the media pictures of the destruction became real to me as I travelled to Gaza to meet families and communities supported by CAFOD, who each had their own personal stories to tell.
The Gaza Strip is merely 25 miles in length and seven miles wide. A short drive is therefore all that it takes to get an accurate picture of the devastation that shook the region to its core this summer.
My first meeting was with a young father, Mohammed Abu Anzah, who had been forced to flee his land with his family when his house was destroyed during aerial bombardments. He has now returned to his land, and I found him hard at work with a team of local labourers who had been funded by CAFOD to rehabilitate the area.
Standing beside his two little daughters, who were playing amongst the debris and building material, Mohammed told me how grateful he was that he can now plant olive trees, beans and chickpeas, which he will sell at the market. He is also building back his house. Continue reading “Gaza crisis: six months on”