Syria's humanitarian crisis spills into Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

Now in its fourth year, Syria's violent civil war has forced more than two million people to flee their country creating what is called the worst ongoing humanitarian crisis on earth. According to the latest figures from the UNHCR, one million registered Syrian refugees are in Lebanon.

The Good Shepherd Sisters of Lebanon, who have had a presence in this country since 1893, are doing their part to help. They have responded to the emergency situation, and are now providing basic life necessities, such as food, fuel and health care, to some of the most marginalized and vulnerable refugees.

Thanks to support from the Pontifical Council, the GSS from February - May, 2013 provided basic needs to 150 Syrian refugee families, or about 900 people, from one of their bases of operation - the town of Deir Al Ahmar, located in the Bekaa Valley, about 30 km outside Beirut.

In addition to providing these basic necessities, the GSS also involved the refugee families in order to keep the line of communication open. The families in the Bekaa Valley are located in settlements that are divided into groups of 10 tents. For each group, one or sometimes two people are designated representatives who consult with the others in their group to identify their needs and share them with the Sisters and staff. 

A special focus is also on the great number of refugee children. The GSS have provided them with access to the educational services they run at the Social and Community Centre of the Good Shepherd.

Meanwhile at another GSS base of operation, the small and often overcrowded Saint Antoine Dispensary in Roueissat in East Beirut, the Sisters provided immediate medical services for 924 Syrian refugees during the same four-month period. A great number of the refugees suffer from skin disorders, including scabies and leishmaniasis.

During this period, the refugees made up 21% of the patients at the dispensary. In 2011, the GSS client base consisted mainly of Iraqi and Lebanese patients, with no Syrian refugees.  

Besides helping those in need, this project has also assisted the GSS and even the local Lebanese community.

GSS collaboration with the UN and other agencies has helped to consolidate a wider awareness of, and respect for, the role that the GSS play in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable.

In addition, the project has helped local Lebanese residents to welcome the new refugees to the extent that they can, while also easing their concerns about finding food and basic human support for these newcomers. It has also reassured them of the GSS’ ability to continue to provide its education and social programs for the local resident children. 

Being able to meet the immediate needs of the Syrian refugees has inspired the Sisters to continue to work hard to provide these services. However, the GSS have limited means and without additional international donor support they will be unable to continue this important work.

Photo: Reuters