Dr. Bernard Sabella calls for intervention to help meet the needs of Syrian refugees and to show our concern.
Reflecting on what is happening in Syria and the plight of the Syrian, Palestinian and other refugees coming out of that country makes me think of the days of my childhood when I used to stand in line, as a refugee child, to collect some of the food rations or used clothes distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Comparing refugee experiences can be difficult since each situation of conflict, dispossession and forced transfer of population should be put in context as each has a different dramatic story. Following the horrific chemical attack in Ghotah outside Damascus in which more than 1,400 people were killed including over 400 children, the shock of using chemical weapons has left all of us reflecting on how “cheap” life has become for those who dare to use such weapons. As a result of this attack and the expected punishing strike by the US and other countries, many Syrians have started leaving the areas close to military installations that could be the target of the impending strike. Many of them opt to go to Lebanon or Jordan or any of the neighbouring countries. In fact, UN figures place the total number of Syrian refugees as well over 2 million. “It is heartbreaking to see all these young people, children and women and refugees, who do not have any means, any hope for their country,” UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said in a speech in Seoul, South Korea. “They do not know when they will be able to return to their country.” “What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and wellbeing of a generation of innocents,” UNHCR’s Antonio Guterres said. “The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures.”
This situation of despair that touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians necessitates intervention. The little we can do will not restore peace and normalcy to their beloved country but it will help sustain these people with dignity while the powers search for an exit to the conflict in Syria. The Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches, both in Jordan and Lebanon, take part, together with other international and church related organizations, in a variety of activities intended to help maintain the dignity of the refugees by providing the basics. While we see our work as a small contribution towards the concerted international and local efforts, nevertheless we feel that what we are doing is important. In Jordan, for example, we have set up a Mothers’ Support Group in which over 300 Syrian women meet to exchange experiences and to devise joint plans to cope with the conditions of refugee life for their families. In Lebanon, DSPR outreach to Syrian refugees includes getting young people back to school in order that they will not lose year or years of education that entitles them to earn their secondary school degrees. Already over 150 young students, Syrians and Palestinians are enrolled. These are difficult times for Syrian refugees as they cope with survival as there are elementary nutritional, educational, hygienic, medical and psychosocial needs to be met.
As we pray for the peace of Syria and its people, we are hopeful that the solidarity shown by people across the world to the plight of the Syrian refugees would come as a comforting sign in these times of great despair and tribulation. We cannot simply sit idle and see the pain of these innocent people without our hearts being moved to do something with them. It is this feeling that can restore faith in our common humanity and in our hopes for a Middle East, and for Syria in specific, in peace with itself and with all its neighbors.
Photo: Syrian Refugees on a Trek out of their country
31 August, 2013
Dr Bernard Sabella is the Executive Secretary of the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees, part of Middle East Council of Churches
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