26 January 2015
An Iraqi refugee family poses for a portrait in their camp in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: Don Duncan)
Jordan and Lebanon have become a temporary refuge for millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees seeking shelter after being forced to flee their homelands. But despite the time that has passed, things are not improving, says Carl Hétu, Canada National Director of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
After a sobering two weeks in the Middle East, including time spent in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine (Gaza), it is clear to Hétu that the status quo is no longer viable. “There needs to be a new approach to help the millions of innocent lives caught in the middle,” he says. “We need to show more courage and resolve, diplomatically, and more generosity in our efforts.”
The Canadian government recently announced an increase in the number of Syrian refugees it will accept — 10,000 to be exact — and its level of humanitarian assistance for persons affected by the conflict in the region.
“The government has a responsibility to respond in such a way on behalf of Canadians,” adds Hétu. “Of course, 10,000 pales in comparison to the three million or so refugees who have spread throughout the region. Neighboring countries are doing more than their share. For example, Lebanon, a country of 4.4 million has received some 1.8 million refugees and Jordan, a country of 6.4 million people, has received more than one million refugees from Syria and Iraq.”
Hétu is back in Canada to shine light on the struggle those affected are forced to contend with on a daily basis. “One thing is clear,” he says. “Everything has changed for the worse. There’s more human suffering, more despair, more refugees, more killings, more social problems, more economic depression. But despite everything, people still have a sense of hope.”
“In Syria, the ongoing war is starving millions who are fleeing to find a better place. For those who have already fled, the unbearable present and unknown future is almost too much to bear.”
For Iraqi Christians and Yazidis who were pushed out of their ancestral villages under threat of death by radical group ISIS, they escaped with only the shirt on their backs. “They’re happy for the aid they have received so far, but how long can people live in crowded church halls divided only by curtains?”
But despite the devastation, the region is filled with stories of solidarity and hope for the future. In Gaza, for example, a Catholic school and parish took in hundreds of displaced people during the Israel-Gaza conflict — which helped to forge new relationships between the Christians and Muslims of Gaza.
As refugees and displaced wait for diplomatic solutions, their needs for basic supplies remain great. CNEWA appeals to Canadians to continue its generous support so that it can provide churches, religious communities and other groups in and around the region — on the field — in their direct assistance to those afflicted by the conflicts in the region. Canadian visitors can donate to CNEWA by visiting CNEWA.ca; U.S. visitors can visit CNEWA.org.