Catholic aid workers find Syrian refugees are in dark about the future

Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in their country make their way to a refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq July 31. Catholic aid workers assisting Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, said there was a large influx of people entering both co untries during the last week of July. (CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

BEIRUT (CNS) — Refugees from Syria are in “complete darkness” about their future, said an official with Caritas Lebanon.

Father Simon Faddoul, president of Caritas Lebanon, which has been working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon for 14 months, said there was a large influx of people during the last week of July as more than 20,000 refugees fled violence in Damascus and Homs.

“The situation we are in at the moment is terrible. What tomorrow will bring? Unfortunately, we estimate a worse situation,” he told CNS.

“The human plight and wound in this part of the world is getting deeper.”

A Catholic Relief Services staff member chronicling the stories of refugees in border communities in Jordan and Lebanon found people fraught with concern for relatives and friends left behind as they were forced to flee the escalating violence with little advance notice.

“People are feeling generally broken and that they might not ever become whole again,” Caroline Brennan, senior communications officer for CRS, said in a telephone interview from Beirut July 31.

“The underlying feeling among Syrian refugees is this genuine deep despair for everything that is lost,” Brennan said. “They really were blinded by this happening to them. They did not expect this.”

The United Nations said July 31 that there were 34,096 displaced Syrians receiving protection and assistance in Lebanon through the efforts of the government, the U.N. and nongovernmental partners. However, Father Faddoul said the number of refugees in Lebanon is much higher.

“In my opinion, the unofficial numbers could be well over 100,000,” Father Faddoul said, pointing to the roughly 300,000 Syrian workers in Lebanon who have been bringing their families to the country as the situation in their homeland deteriorated.

Syrian refugees, Father Faddoul said, are “extremely fearful.”

“They fear to talk or to be pictured. They are afraid to give their names to the UNHCR,” leaving many people unregistered, he said.

Caritas distributed food kits, food vouchers, sheets and blankets and hygiene kits to refugees in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, and the Bekaa Valley region, distributing nearly 13,000 items. Brennan said CRS was working with Caritas Jordan in providing food and distributing bedding, stoves, fans and hygiene kits in the northern Jordanian communities of Ibid, Mafraq and Zarqa.

“What you see in those areas are people with war stories you don't expect. Mothers showing bullet wounds under their dresses. Children drawing pictures in a clinic they should have no reason to draw,” Brennan said.

“It is so raw for people right now. It is not what they expected to happen in their lifetime,” she added.

Many refugees are facing psychological trauma, Father Faddoul said, citing the violence they experienced.

“Someone who watched a family member being killed before their eyes … a woman who witnessed her husband being hanged … bombardment for three to four consecutive days … the stories are endless,” he said.

The refugees face an uncertain future.

“They live in complete darkness about what comes next,” Father Faddoul said. “They have hit a wall.”

Laura Sheahen, communications officer for Caritas Internationalis, visited Syrian refugees in sprawling tent camps near the Lebanese of city of Zahle in the Bekaa Valley July 3.

“Where I went, there were dozens of Syrian refugee families living in each tent camp,” Sheahen told CNS. “Often they make the tents by sewing seed sacks together. Sometimes they cook inside, which is dangerous because the dry cloth sacks catch on fire. In one case, five of these makeshift shelters burned down. A man saved his children, but both of his arms were burned.”

The Syrians want the war to end quickly so they can return home and begin to piece their lives back together, both Father Faddoul and Brennan told CNS. “They are very attached to their homeland, their families,” the priest said.

“The human suffering is terrible,” said Father Faddoul, stressing that the crisis “cannot wait for political analysis or calculation.”

“Suffering people only wait to be supported by people who can feel with them. We at Caritas are helping them to remain on their feet until the crisis ends and they can go back,” Faddoul said, adding that the organization has received aid only from Caritas partners and needs financial and moral support “from our friends in the world.”

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—By Doreen Abi Raad Catholic News Service. Contributing to this report was Dennis Sadowski in Washington.

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