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Current Issue
July, 2019
Volume 45, Number 2
  
4 September 2015
Greg Kandra




A woman sits among sleeping migrants near the Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary, on 3 September. More than 2,000 people, most of them refugees from the Middle East, camped in front of the Keleti Railway Terminus, closed to them by authorities who said European Union rules bar travel by those without valid documents. (photo: CNS/Bernadett Szabo, Reuters)

At a moment when the eyes of the world are riveted on the horror unfolding in Europe — with tens of thousands, most from Iraq and Syria, fleeing for their lives, and some stories ending in tragedy and despair — there are, nonetheless, glimmers of hope.

Catholic aid agencies are there to help.

In Hungary, the government has asked Caritas Hungary to intervene:

[Vatican radio reporter] Linda Bordoni spoke to the Head of Caritas Hungary Emergency Response, Balint Vadasz, who explains that Caritas will expand its operation outside the camps and create “transit zones”: spaces in the city where refugees will be able to obtain assistance.

Vadasz, who has been talking to people at the train station where clashes with police officers have fueled tension and anger, says that the migrants and refugees can be divided into two groups: the first, consisting mostly in women and children that is patient, cooperative and subdued; the other, more numerous, he describes as “hardcore” and consists mostly of people who are fueling discontent and he says are provoking aggressive behavior.

Vadasz says that although there are many Syrian refugees amongst the crowds of migrants, there are also many economic migrants who attempt to pass as refugees but come from countries like Albania and Afghanistan.

He says that about 80% of them are men; the remaining 20% are families with children.

He speaks of the living conditions of the people trying to board trains at Budapest Station. He says the situation is extremely difficult for ordinary Hungarians.

He also describes the situation of utter chaos in the city where parks and streets are filled with wandering people who cause huge problems to the traffic and overun with litter — making everyday life unsustainable for citizens.

At the moment — he says — Caritas is providing basic humanitarian assistance to those in the camps but plans to expand its emergency response programme by creating spaces — “transit zones” — in the city of Budapest where refugees will be able to be assisted with a number of projects including special healthcare programmes for children and babies.

Many of the refugees fleeing to Europe first found refuge in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. Lebanon alone has absorbed an estimated 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria, a staggering figure representing one refugee for every three people already residing in the country. In Jordan, where it is said “if you are not a refugee, you are a stranger,” hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians have poured into its cities for years, straining the kingdom’s already overburdened infrastructure.

And CNEWA is there to help, working through local churches and religious congregations to provide support to the displaced:

Two Franciscan Missionaries of Mary — one middle aged, one a novice — wind their way through a narrow alley lined with convenience shops and small cinderblock homes. Local residents greet them. The sisters are here to visit a few of the hundreds of Syrians who have taken refuge in Naba’a after fleeing their nation’s three-year civil war.

But Naba’a is hardly a refuge. Since the government of Lebanon has decided not to build refugee camps, people find shelter wherever they can: in one-room homes, in crowded apartments, even in tents.

In Naba’a, as in the rest of Lebanon, you are left to fend for yourself. But in a land riddled with clear and present dangers, the two sisters this day are bearing something often hard to find: hope.

...[One refugee] Mariam has not always had a hopeful outlook. When she first came to Beirut she was overwhelmed and despondent. Gabriel was out of work because of a back injury, and Sonique, her 13-year-old daughter, was still traumatized by what she had witnessed in Syria. The family lived in a tent on a roof, renting the space for $100 per month. But after she began attending a series of retreats sponsored by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Mariam found the courage to accept her circumstances and even to help others.

A team of psychologists and social workers counsels participants on the importance of positive thinking, how to live in community, how to care for others and how to preserve family unity in the midst of difficult circumstances. Children are taught the same lessons in separate sessions that include games and theater. The retreats always end with a party, with adults and children coming together for songs, skits and dancing.

Sisters of the Good Shepherd help care for Syrian refugee children at a makeshift school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (photo: John E. Kozar)

In Jordan, meantime, displaced Iraqi Christians who have fled ISIS are finding sanctuary — and CNEWA is there for them, too:

“The flow of refugees is great. We see the suffering they are going through and how we can support them,” says Sister Elizabeth Mary, one of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary who staff the [Italian Hospital in Amman].

“Whatever funds we receive, they’re used because the people never stop coming. We are always looking for help,” adds the soft-spoken sister.

“It’s normal to see refugees here at the Italian Hospital, which is not the case with other hospitals in Amman. At every level, our staff is prepared to aid them, and the refugees also feel good about coming to our hospital,” Mr. Samawi says.

“Thousands of people are benefiting from our health care program handling mid-sized surgeries,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, which supports the Catholic hospital’s care for refugees and the poor. “Now, we are trying to help with larger surgeries — heart operations and some cancer and hernia treatments.”

Until recently, the U.N. High Council for Refugees also channeled assistance to the hospital through Caritas, but that aid has ended, straining the resources of the facility and its partner, CNEWA.

Those Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS come to the Italian Hospital primarily for the treatment of hypertension and diabetes, says medical director Dr. Khalid Shammas. Others suffer from chronic heart problems and strokes. Often, he says, the diseases are related to the enormous stress from the loss of homes, livelihoods and more.

“We listen to them. There is struggle, loss and disappointment. It’s no wonder the refugees are depressed,” says Sister Elizabeth.

To learn how you can continue to support this vital work, at a time when so many of our suffering brothers and sisters are in need, visit this giving page. And please keep all those seeking sanctuary — in Europe, in the Middle East, and around the world — in your prayers.