Help in the Bekaa Valley

5 Dec 2013   |   Blog   |   Syria   |   Emergency Relief

Tags:  Lebanon, Syrian refugees   |   No comments

Madeline with children at a refugee settlement

Earlier this year, Madeline Baker from Caritas Australia’s Humanitarian Emergency Response team travelled to Lebanon to see how Caritas’ support is assisting Syrian refugees.

Her visit to a Caritas Lebanon refugee centre in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border helped her to realise how great the need is for continued support.

Lebanon is a mountainous country with a diverse environment. Within a matter of hours you can be on the mountains skiing or swimming at the beach. It is also a very small but densely populated country. To give a comparison, Lebanon has nearly 4.5 million people (or 20 percent of the Australian population) but Australia is roughly 760 times bigger.

The country is not only dealing with the pressure of the Syrian war, but complex and significant political and religious divides within Lebanon and more broadly within the region. Additionally the country has faced decades of colonial control and civil conflict which has bruised the nation.

When driving down the main road towards Beirut, it is a vibrant, beautiful and exciting city. But the presence of heavy police patrolling and army security checks makes visitors very aware of the underlying tensions. The city itself is densely populated and many of the empty buildings carry the scars of war. However, the Lebanese are resilient and generous people.

Caritas Lebanon Refugee Centre

On our first day in the country we travelled 1.5 hours from Beirut to the Caritas Lebanon refugee centre in Taalabaya, Bekaa valley, east Lebanon. Close to the border of Syria, many refugees come through this area as it is an official checkpoint for refugees entering the country.

The valley itself is beautiful, green agricultural land surrounded by arid, rocky mountains. And as we begin to drive towards the border, small villages of tents begin to appear in the horizon.

Lebanon now holds the greatest amount of Syrian refugees in the region. United Nations statistics state the number of refugees to be around 750,000 however local authorities and migrant centres believe it is more than double.

Children's paintings

At this centre, Caritas staff distribute hygiene kits, food and winter packages (including blankets and fuel vouchers). They also carry out health checks including psychosocial support for children. The walls of the centre are covered with simple children’s paintings, depicting bombs around their houses in Syria – quite a sobering image.

We visited their registration area where there were a number of refugees, all women and some children. One woman told us she was an English teacher; she then proceeded to say that she came over from Syria six months ago and received no help. This was a phrase which was to be repeated over the course of the day.

With the latest UNHCR reports stating that the number of Syrians refugees exceeds 2.2 million (November 2013), it became clear, very quickly, that the needs are immense and as hard as everyone is trying, they are not being met.

Can you help us assist the Syrian refugees? With winter approaching the need is greater than ever. For more information or to donate, head to our Syria Crisis Appeal »

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