Learning from refugees in Lebanon

“I have learnt so much about the refugee situation as well as about myself and I will be using my strength in faith to guide me when sharing about my experience in Lebanon.”

Ryan in Lebanon
Ryan in Lebanon

Ryan Wilkinson is a 19 year old CAFOD volunteer from Sheffield who recently travelled with CAFOD to meet refugees in Lebanon.

My recent visit to Lebanon has had such a large, positive impact on my life and has made me want to encourage others to learn more about the refugee crisis.

It was such incredible experience to meet refugees who Association Najdeh and Caritas Lebanon, the two CAFOD partners that I visited, reach and help in different camps and shelters. Having the opportunity to talk to people who are refugees, and the staff at the organisations was so inspiring for me as it made me think more about my life and how I can do more to encourage change.

There were times during my visit where it left me emotionally drained as I was hearing many emotional stories about what people are going through, and how their lives have changed since moving to Lebanon.

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Continue reading “Learning from refugees in Lebanon”

Meeting refugees in Lebanon

CAFOD volunteer Leah Fox
CAFOD volunteer Leah in Lebanon

Leah Fox is a CAFOD volunteer from Newcastle who has spent the past year working with young people to help them better understand the plight of refugees. She recently travelled with CAFOD to meet refugees in Lebanon who have been forced to leave their homes because of conflict in Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

My overall experience in Lebanon was amazing; I feel extremely privileged to have had an opportunity to go and experience first-hand what life is like in the refugee camps. There was so much to learn and it was great to meet so many different people from many different walks of life.

In the camps we met Syrian and Palestinian refugees who had been in Lebanon for a long time. We also met Palestinian refugees from Syria, who initially moved there because of conflict but are now in Lebanon.

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Refugee crisis: A message from Lebanon

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.

Send a message of hope to refugees today Continue reading “Refugee crisis: A message from Lebanon”

Lost Family Portraits: meeting Souraya’s family

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.

Nana with young refugee children
Nana playing with some of the young children at Bekka refugee camp

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.

See the Lost Family Portraits

Our arrival with the photography crew creates an air of excitement, as children run out from the labyrinth pathways in between the tented dwellings, as if the Pied Piper were calling them.

The camp leader, or ‘Chawish’ tells me: “Every family here has someone missing; they are either dead, kidnapped, or trapped.”

Continue reading “Lost Family Portraits: meeting Souraya’s family”

Lost Family Portraits: Photographing the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon

Dario Mitidieri in Bekaa Refugee Camp, Lebanon
Dario Mitidieri in Bekaa Refugee Camp, Lebanon

Dario Mitidieri began his career as a professional photographer in 1987 working for The Sunday Telegraph and The Independent newspapers. In his long and illustrious career, he has travelled to Tiananmen Square in Beijing to witness the army repression of students. He has also photographed the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Iraq War, the 2005 Tsunami in Indonesia and the Kobe Earthquake in Japan. He recently travelled to the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, with CAFOD and creative agency M&C Saatchi where he worked on studio-styled portraits of twelve families who have fled the conflict in Syria.

It is early – just before eight, but winding through the steep hill side roads of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, there is a frenzy of building work: hotels and luxury apartments going up. This ancient, open city is alive.

Once we leave the concrete landscape behind us, the undulating hills of the Bekaa valley – Lebanon’s agricultural pulse and once the ‘breadbasket of the Roman Empire’ – come into view. Overnight there has been a first dusting of snow on the hills.

Just over the mountain ridge, some nine kilometres away is the border with Syria.

I’m heading to a Syrian refugee camp, with CAFOD and its partner, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre.

Just before Christmas, I came together with CAFOD, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre and the creative agency, M&C Saatchi, to work on a unique project to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees: Lost Family Portraits.

See some of the Lost Family Portraits

The idea is to take a pop-up studio and set it up in some of the camps and take family portraits of Syrian refugees, with empty chairs symbolising the loved ones they have left behind or lost due to this horrific six-year war. Continue reading “Lost Family Portraits: Photographing the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon”

International Day of Peace – 21 September 2015

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.

Eman’s story

Eman's nieces in Lebanon
Eman’s nieces in Lebanon

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.”

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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.

“I feel ashamed because I have no money and the family that I am staying with have barely any money either. Maybe we eat one day and then for three days we do not, because we don’t have the money to buy food,” she said. Continue reading “International Day of Peace – 21 September 2015”

Syria crisis: healthcare for refugees

By Tabitha Ross, CAFOD freelancer in Lebanon

In Syria, it’s traditionally a source of great pride to be the mother of sons, and Ghossoun was rightly proud of her five boys. Brought up on a farm in the Homs region of Syria, each one grew up and went into the army when he left home – a stable and respectable career at the time. Ghossoun and her husband were left at home with their youngest, their only girl.

Ghossoun, Syrian refugee in Lebanon - CAFOD and Caritas
Ghossoun

Then Syria descended into war.

Ghossoun’s sons were targeted

“We didn’t want to participate in the war. We were neither with the government nor against it. But unfortunately we were not allowed that option,” said Ghossoun.

Because they were in the army, her sons were targeted as government supporters, although Ghossoun says their choice of career was not a political statement. The threats got worse, and one terrible day, Ghossoun’s husband was murdered as he worked on the farm.

Fearing for her children’s lives, Ghossoun fled to Lebanon with her family.

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This made her sons military deserters, and now they are in trouble with both the Syrian government and its opponents. “We told the authorities that their father was killed and their lives were threatened, but of course they didn’t believe us,” she said.

They have also been pursued to Lebanon by the group that killed her husband, and have had to move around several times. Now they live in hiding, only leaving the house when absolutely necessary. Continue reading “Syria crisis: healthcare for refugees”