Syrian refugees receive humanitarian aid from an Islamic organization in Tripoli, Lebanon, March 6. As temperatures drop to near freezing in Lebanon, Caritas is working to find shelter for Syrian refugees, mostly women and children. CNS photo/Omar Ibrahim, Reuters

Caritas Lebanon seeks shelter for refugees fleeing Syrian violence

By  Doreen Abi Raad, Catholic News Service
  • March 7, 2012

BEIRUT - Church aid workers scrambled to find housing for hundreds of Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring Lebanon because of ongoing violence between Syrian forces and armed rebels.

About 200 families -- more than 1,000 people overall -- made their way to the border town of Qaa in the Bekaa Valley in northern Lebanon March 5 and were struggling in the region's near-freezing temperatures.

Father Simon Faddoul, president of Caritas Lebanon, told Catholic News Service March 6 that "women and children and the elderly are coming out in the cold, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, to seek safety."

"It's very cold, and they have nothing," he said.

The U.N. refugee agency said that as many as 2,000 Syrians crossed into Lebanon March 5-6 to escape the violence that has claimed hundreds of lives.

Father Faddoul said most of the refugees arrived on foot from areas near the besieged city of Homs.

"They are leaving the young men behind in Syria to guard their houses" from attack, Father Faddoul said.

"These are people fleeing from war, their homes under bombardment. Things are getting out of hand," he added.

Before the latest surge, about 100 families had fled to Lebanon in recent weeks and were receiving assistance from Caritas, the priest said.

Faddoul estimated that about 40 of the newly arrived families were Christian, while the rest were Muslim.

"This has nothing to do with religion. Whenever there is suffering, we have to be there with them and to help them," he said.

Caritas has deployed two social workers and about 15 volunteers in Qaa. They have distributed 300 blankets and personal hygiene kits.

Father Faddoul said the availability of adequate housing in the poverty-ravaged town of Qaa is limited. About 30-35 refugees are crammed into rooms that are about 126 square feet in size. Caritas is collaborating with municipal officials to locate homes that three or four families could share.

Caritas Lebanon has had a regular presence in the Bekaa Valley, with coordinating programs in agriculture, farming and irrigation to address the region's poverty in the region.

"Now we have so many concerns, how to find shelters, especially if the situation (in Syria) drags on," Faddoul said.

"We hope the situation doesn't deteriorate further," he added.

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