For Caritas Lebanon's director, Syrian refugees are a humanitarian and international crisis
Fr Paul Karam looks at the problems the presence of 1.6 million refugees from Syria cause to a country like Lebanon where they represent almost half of the local population. In three years, crime has jumped from 15 to 60 per cent. Most refugees are Muslim, which threatens Lebanon's confessional balance. Without action, a regional and global tragedy could ensue in a world that finds money for weapons and wars, but not for refugees.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The problem of Syrian refugees has now become a "humanitarian" and an international crisis". Unless the world finds a solution, this tragedy will have disastrous effects for the whole Middle East, said Fr Paul Karam, director of Caritas Lebanon.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the head of the Catholic charity explained that his organisation has been involved non-stop dealing with the never-ending flow of Syrian families fleeing their country's civil war.

"In Lebanon, there are at least 1.6 million Syrian refugees," said Fr Karam. "The United Nations only counts those that are registered, about 1.2 million. And there are also at least 700 Christian Iraqi families from Baghdad, Mosul and Erbil, as well tens of thousands of Palestinians from Syria."

"Lebanon has a population of 4.4 million. If Italy had to take in the same number of refugees in proportion to its population and meet their basic needs, it would be swamped by 20 to 30 million people. Lebanese authorities and our communities alone cannot bear this burden alone. We need a commitment from the international community."

Fr Karam spoke a few days after the United Nations World Food Programme announced that it was running out of food rations for Syrian refugees. Yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees added her voice, saying that at least US$ 4.4 billion were needed to help the estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq).

"The first problem is economic," the director of Caritas Lebanon said. "The economic challenges they face are enormous because of the huge number of refugees. For them, we need to find the basics: water, electricity, gas, things for normal life."

"The other problem is demographic. Most Syrian refugees are Muslims, not Christians. This affects Lebanon's own situation, which is defined by a balance between two communities, Muslims and Christians, and the relationship between 18 religious denominations. If this situation is upset, everything could collapse."

"Then there is the security issue. In the past three years, the presence of refugees has led to spike in stealing, kidnapping, and violence. So many of them attack people, or want to steal . . . In recent years, the crime rate rose from 15 to 60 per cent."

"Finally, there is the humanitarian aspect. How do we meet refugees' needs when even the Lebanese today are going through an economic crisis, hard-pressed to find food, jobs, and homes?"

"People in Lebanon are becoming increasingly impoverished. This is why I told the partners that help us that 30 per cent of all donations that go to Syrians should be set aside for the Lebanese who shelter refugees."

Like the United Nations, Fr Karam wants the international community to take responsibility for this crisis. "Soon, there will be no food for refugees under UN protection. Until now, these people survived on aid. How will they live in the future? Will they start stealing? Will they move to other countries and destabilise them?"

"This is why I say that this is an international crisis and no country on its own can handle it alone. If things continue the way they are, there will a crisis, not only in Lebanon but also in Jordan (8 times Lebanon's) and Turkey (25 times Lebanon's)".

For the director of Caritas Lebanon, it is urgent to find a political solution to the situation as well as funds for economic assistance. "The international community must take to heart the Mideast tragedy especially that of Christians, who are the first victims and are directly caught up on the frontline," he said.

"We have to believe in dialogue and build a true path towards it in order to bring peace and justice to all the countries of the region," he added.

"We cannot guarantee peace to one country and let the others sink into war. There must be a path towards peace for everyone. Without such a perspective, there will always be conflicts, dragging from year to the next, from one generation to another. "

"Yet," for Fr Karam, "Lebanon remains a community of hope. But why should Lebanon have to solve this problem alone? Why is it that money to buy and make weapons is always found, but there is none to feed refugees? Pope Francis said it a few times: we always find money for weapons and war and have no money to reduce poverty in the world." (BC)