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Refugees in Lebanon, facing new reality, get help at Catholic-run clinic

24 Nov 2015 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — The three Iraqi retirees met up at St. Anthony’s medical dispensary to get medication for hypertension, an ailment exacerbated by the stress of life as a refugee.

As they waited their turn, they recalled their life in Qaraqosh, Iraq.

“We celebrated everything together,” 70-year-old Wissam told Catholic News Service. “We had the biggest celebrations in all of Iraq, especially in summer.”

That was before the Islamic State seized control of Qaraqosh in August 2014, driving out some 50,000 Christians. Many settled in Lebanon, hoping to emigrate to Europe, the Americas or Australia for a brighter future.

Wissam, Kassem and Youssef — identified by pseudonyms — were a school principal, a physics teacher and a self-employed businessman who simultaneously operated five enterprises.

In Beirut, they were seeking help as the poorest of the poor at a clinic run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. The refugees' adult children include a doctor and a pharmacist who, in Lebanon, had to settle for jobs in supermarkets.

In the crowded waiting area 18 November, the three friends shook their heads in disbelief as they shared images on their phones received via social media of seven people from two families — fellow Syriac Catholics from Qaraqosh — who drowned the previous day in the Aegean Sea en route from Turkey to Greece.

“We cried all day,” Youssef said of his reaction when he heard about the deaths. “It is such a tragedy.”

“If we try to get to another country, it could be the same. Maybe we will arrive, or maybe we will perish too,” he added.

St. Anthony’s functions as a primary health care center, serving Iraqi and Syrian refugees, as well as Lebanon’s poor. It is accredited by Lebanon’s ministry of health, and its motto is displayed at the entrance: “Religion is for God and the dispensary is for everyone.” The Good Shepherd Sisters’ ministry of mercy and of seeing the face of God in each person they encounter permeates the atmosphere in the clinic, which is supported by international agencies such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need.

On average, 200 refugees are helped at the clinic each day. Last year, the center served 17,000 people. Recently, as part of a vaccination campaign, more than 2,000 children were vaccinated at the center in less than a week.

“These are people who are needy and who are seeking medical support,” Dr. Hadi Jaklh, a physician who supervises a rotating team of 40 doctors at the center, told Catholic News Service. “Unfortunately, what we see in the media does not reflect 100 percent the reality of things. We don’t see (them as) terrorists.”

“We provide them with the best service we can possibly give,” Jaklh said, adding that “we don’t get into religion or politics” with the patients.

“I really don’t have words to describe what they are living,” said Good Shepherd Sister Georgette Tannoury. “They are very traumatized. I cannot even repeat what they tell me.”

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