This report is contributed by Oliver Maksan of Aid to the Church in Need.
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Flodia is not in good shape; the young woman is often in bed with acute abdominal pain. “The whole situation has now started to affect me physically,” she says. “Being a refugee means having stress. You cannot imagine it. Worrying about tomorrow eats you up, first mentally, then physically.”
She has been living in the Christian city of Zahle, Lebanon, with her husband George and their three children since 2012. Zahle is not far from the Syrian border and has been a destination for many thousands of Syrian Christian refugees fleeing the civil war in their homeland, many of them leaving comfortable lives behind. This family left a relatively good life in Homs, Syria.
The family is renting a single room, in which they have to cook, eat and sleep. It is filled with old furniture – donations from local Christians. “We have to pay $250 a month for this small flat. That is a lot for us.” The family needs to come up with at least $600 each month.
George, a former construction worker, is currently out of work, in part because of health problems. It is up to their three sons now to support the family. Choked up, Flodia tells international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “My sons should be going to school or be in training for a profession or even going to university. But that is not possible. We need the money. But you can imagine how a mother feels when she robs her children of their future. I feel so guilty.”
Her son Eli, who is 16 and works in a warehouse, waves her words aside. “Our parents used to do everything for us. Now it is simply our turn,” he says. His younger brother, only 13, works in a bakery. The oldest, 17-year-old Roger, washes hair at a barbershop. Combined, the three only bring home $150 a month, despite 12-hour days. Their mother calls it “exploitation.”
The family is grateful for the support from the Melkite Archdiocese of Zahle, whose Archbishop Issam Darwish said: “In 2011, when the first Syrian Christians from Homs knocked on our door in the middle of the night, it was clear that we needed to help them. After all, these are our brothers and sisters.” The archdiocese is helping a total of 700 Christian families with food, clothing and other necessities.
According to conservative estimates, every fourth person in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. The UN has counted 1.2 million registered refugees, with the actual number likely being much higher. “The solidarity of the Lebanese is reaching its limits. They are losing patience,” Archbishop Darwish said, adding that “crime rates have risen sharply.” The government has closed its borders for refugees.
Lebanese are feeling the pinch of glut of cheap labor which is worsening an already very tough job market. Many Lebanese are considering emigration. The Christian exodus throughout the Middle East is worrisome. “Sunnis and Shiites can talk to each other in my house. Where else is this possible? We Christians have a calling for reconciliation,” the archbishop said.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)