01/15/2018, 14.11
LEBANON - SYRIA

Caritas Lebanon: The refugee crisis is increasing, citizens increasingly poor

UN: "More vulnerable than ever", more than half in conditions of "extreme poverty". The increasing "uncertainty" of aid. Fr. Paul Karam: At least 28% of Lebanese below the poverty line. We must "encourage" the peace process in Syria, the war will have "consequences for the next 50 years".

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The Syrian refugee emergency in Lebanon is "becoming increasingly serious" because it involves not only those who have fled the conflict, but "the same local population that is becoming increasingly impoverished”, Fr. Paul Karam tells AsiaNews.  The priest who is also  director of Caritas Lebanon, has been at the forefront of welcoming Syrian families fleeing the war for more than six years, and he is now warning of the danger of a "serious economic, political and social crisis" for the country. "The problem is increasingly widespread - he adds - and today we know that at least 28% of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line".

Recently, a Lebanese minister spoke of a decrease in Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which has just fallen below one million. However, according to UN experts, the situation is getting more complicated, so much so that today they are "more vulnerable than ever" and "more than half" live in conditions of "extreme poverty" and "more than three quarters below the poverty line". The confirmation comes from an investigation by UNICEF, the World Food Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to which aid and funding to respond to the emergency are more "uncertain".

Three quarters of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now live on less than four dollars a day; often money is not even enough to buy basic resources, like food and medicine. According to research, nine out of ten refugees have applied for cash loans and are now overwhelmed with debt. Each household spends on average $ 98 a month, 44 of which are used for eating.

In this emergency situation, Pope Francis in his 2018 Message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees reminds us that in addition to welcoming we must "protect, promote and integrate". Fr. Paul Karam echoes this call warning it should  “not be lost in the void" but is essential "to awaken the consciences of the international community", often deaf to the growing needs. "The Church – he warns - must promote the value of peace, mutual aid and solidarity with ever greater force, promoting a peace that is founded on justice"

According to UN figures, 84% of refugees find refuge in Turkey (which receives 2.9 million people), Pakistan (1.4 million), Lebanon (over one million), Iran (979.400 migrants), Uganda (940.800) and Ethiopia (761.600).

"The problem - says Fr. Paul Karam to AsiaNews - is broad and complicated. The aid of the international community is diminishing and we cannot always count on solidarity and welfare". The emergency must be addressed, he continues, "by encouraging a peace process in Syria that has not really started yet. We must end this tragedy with negative consequences "on a regional and global scale”.

The director of Caritas Lebanon addresses those who have "managed" the war so far, inviting them to "think about the consequences that are more serious than the war itself" and involve Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey "for the next 50 years". There are many problems and urgencies, from housing to work, from the economy to infrastructures, he continues, "this is why we strongly urge an end the conflict" and call for "a real path of reconciliation".

"Meanwhile, the Lebanese are growing poorer - confirms Fr. Paul - at least 28% of the population lives below the poverty line and has no money to buy food. More and more citizens are turning to the Caritas centers; 2017 was a tragic year for us. Bishops, patriarchs, ministers, social workers are all aware of the seriousness of the problem".

If so far there have been no episodes of open hostility towards refugees, it is equally true that "people are increasingly tired of this emergency. There is the awareness of a social, economic and political problem to be solved".

"At the Church and Caritas levels - he concludes - for the Christmas period, we have promoted over 100 activities in support of both refugees and Lebanese citizens. These include the distribution of food, blankets and medicines to children. Our goal is to help the poorest of the poor. "(DS)

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