06/20/2017, 19.22
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Caritas Lebanon: peace and fight against arms trade to meet refugee emergency

Today is the UN’s World Refugee Day. In 2016, refugees numbered 65.6 million, 300,000 more than last year. Every three seconds someone in the world is forced to abandon their home. For Fr Karam, the US-Saudi arms deal is worrisome. Church backs small entrepreneurship projects.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – To solve the refugee emergency requires an end to the war in Syria and other conflicts around the world. This can only be achieved if there is "a genuine desire for peace", one that is stronger than "ideologies, political calculations and international economic interests," said Fr Paul Karam, director of Caritas Lebanon.

His organisation has led the way in helping Syrian families who fled their war-torn country in the past five years. He spoke to AsiaNews on World Refugee Day.

"The recent weapons deal between Saudi Arabia and the United States is a source of concern and makes it feel that the war is not about to end."

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2000 establishing World Refugee Day.

According to the Geneva Convention of 1951, a refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Countries who have signed the Refugee Convention are required to guarantee asylum to people who meet such criteria.

With respect to refugees, Lebanon plays a leading role. "Some reports indicate that a small group of perhaps 50 families has returned to Syria,” Fr Karam said, “but the crisis is as bad as ever since no real solution has been found for the conflict. Problems will get worse.”

As Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed, what we need “is justice and respect for nations and their traditions and cultures by removing constraints and impositions from the outside."

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there were 65.6 million displaced people and refugees in 2016, up by 300,000 over the previous year.

The Global Trends annual report indicates that every three seconds someone is forced to abandon his or her home due to wars, violence or human rights violations.

Syria still has the most refugees with about 5.5 million, a total of 12 million displaced people inside and outside of the country. That represents two-thirds of its original population. Afghans come in second with 4.7 million displaced people, followed by Iraqis with 4.2 million.

There is also the question of accommodations, which has proved very controversial in many European nations. Most refugees (about 84 per cent) have found themselves in low- or middle-income countries.

One in three (almost 5 million) is in less-developed countries. Proportionately to the local population, Lebanon has received the most refugees, followed by Jordan.

"Lebanon is still leading the way in terms of the emergency and this ha had serious internal repercussions’” Fr Karam said.

“The latest figures show that 1.1 million (out of a total of about 4.4 million) lives below the poverty line, 28 per cent of the population is unemployed, especially young people.”

“This has led to outmigration of Lebanese citizens, who go abroad for better opportunities. This ends up impoverishing our economy and society. It's all connected."

For the Lebanese clergyman, stopping the arms trade, investing resources in a serious peace process, tackling hunger, encouraging rival parties to take part in a sincere dialogue, with a look at the future of the country and the region are the elements on which to build the future.

"But we need a common will that goes beyond ideology, especially among regional and world powers. In fact, poor countries are certainly not the major manufacturers and exporters of weapons. Indeed, the weaker are the ones who pay for these policies with their blood."

"Lebanon is getting poorer by the day," and it is increasingly difficult to "meet humanitarian and political challenges". The local Church has responded by doing more every day to meet the many emergencies.

"We have been trying to involve donors and supporters in helping small local entrepreneurship projects, which provide jobs and development opportunities in villages and towns because it is important to stay in one’s native land,” the clergyman said.

“These initiatives in micro-development are aimed at ensuring vitality in depressed areas by nurturing a humble economy, with small but essential numbers."

Finally, "We continue to pray and work for peace,” said the Caritas director, “hoping that the international community will hear our cry for rights and justice." (DS)

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