Life for Syrian refugees outside of official camps – how local churches are making a difference

For the launch of Tearfund’s media report ‘Overcrowded and overlooked’ this is a guest blog post by Rupen Das. Rupen is the Director of one of Tearfund’s partnering organisations helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Rupen Das profile

As the crisis in Syria and its neighbouring countries enters its third year, it is heart breaking that the humanitarian situation is getting worse, and a peace deal through the diplomatic talks seems unreachable.

The conflict has been described as the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war. The scale of the response is hugely challenging as more than 2.2 million Syrians are hosted in the region placing unprecedented strain on communities, infrastructure and services in host countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

In Lebanon, where displaced Syrians now equal one-third of the population, there is huge strain on communities, infrastructure and services. Unlike Syria’s other neighbours there are currently no official camps in Lebanon for Syrians. While the UN has made great efforts to improve refugee registration, given the continued unprecedented increase of refugees, Lebanon and the other hosting countries still need practical and financial support. The burden on them is immense and unsustainable.

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Photo: Tearfund

Some Syrians who have fled are living with host communities such as friends and relatives. However, as space is finite within homes this can mean up to 30 people living in one bedroom apartments. Many others are renting accommodation in the highly inflationary private housing market, or being forced to find whatever shelter they can in empty and derelict buildings, or in informal tent  settlements. Some of the least fortunate can be seen sleeping rough under bridges, in parks and on the streets.

With an estimated 84 percent of refugees living outside camps, increased outreach capacity is needed to ensure all persons of concern have access to information and counselling regarding their status and available services. That’s why aid agencies like Tearfund are using local-based partner organisations and churches to support hundreds of vulnerable Syrians who are now living outside of formal camp settlements.

Caring for those who are not part of the mainstreams of society like refugees because of their brokenness and rejection is, amongst other things, a core part of how the church responds to those in need.

During challenging times churches can become places of compassion for anyone regardless of their faith or ethnic background. They are stepping out of their comfort zones and reaching out to those who do not belong to their group or community.  In Lebanon, many of the churches are demonstrating what forgiveness and reconciliation looks like through their acts of compassion as they forgive Syrians for their twenty year occupation of the country.

Three Syrian boys living in a make-shift informal camp in Lebanon. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund

Three Syrian boys living in a make-shift informal camp in Lebanon. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund

Local faith communities are often crucial operational partners assisting larger agencies. Practical examples of this include registering asylum seekers, community peace building, conflict mitigation, promoting sustainable livelihoods, and gender and child protection[1].  Partnerships formed by the faith-based agencies can have a significant advantage in this respect, being able to tap into pre-existing local networks to identify and respond to needs as they arise.

However we cannot do it alone, and we all need to work together – the UN, donors, large development agencies, different faith based organisations and local civil society. As the crisis continues, it is clear that while humanitarian assistance is vital, particularly for the refugees and host communities, a great hope of those who fled is to return to Syria.

Above all, they want the international community to invest in a peace plan for Syria to end the bloodshed and suffering.

Coverage of Tearfund’s partner work in Lebanon was broadcast on Channel 5 News which you can watch below

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BoszCfMeEQ


[1] Joint Learning Initiative (JLI) Local faith communities and resilience in humanitarian situations policy note http://www.jliflc.com/~/media/Files/Joint%20Learning/LHAG%20Resilience/JLIFLC%20Faith%20%20Resilience%20Hub%20Policy%20Note.pdf

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