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Syrians turn for help in Lebanon

05 Jan 2017 – ZAHLE, Lebanon (CNS) — Balancing boxes and bags filled with warm clothes for his family, Malak Elias Mnayeri waited for a taxi in the near-freezing temperatures outside Caritas Lebanon’s center in Zahle, close to the Syrian border.

“Today I feel like a real father,” he told Catholic News Service, discussing the necessities he would take to his two children.

The Syriac Orthodox family fled from Homs, Syria, four years ago.

“We used to live in dignity,” Mnayeri said. “I never thought we’d be living like this, always in need.”

Through his work as an auto mechanic, Mnayeri’s family lived comfortably in Homs before the conflict started.

In their early days in Lebanon, the family received help from the U.N. Refugee Agency, the UNHCR. But the agency has not provided the family with any assistance in about two years, and only Caritas is helping them, he said.

“We are just living day-to-day,” said Mnayeri, who has not been able to find steady work. “I have no idea what the future will bring.”

“I’m so thankful to God that Caritas remembers us,” he added.

Mnayeri was one of the recipients of Caritas Lebanon’s distribution of winter clothes for 16 families in Zahle in early January. In all, 150 refugee families who live there are being assisted by the coordinated distribution. Each family was registered individually and the winter items — including pants, sweaters, jackets, socks, hats, scarves and gloves — were selected based on age and gender.

Most of the items were donated to Caritas by Lebanese individuals and nongovernmental organizations in the country and, before distribution, filled up eight garage-sized storage rooms, said Ramzi Abou Zeid, regional coordinator for Caritas Lebanon. He said the project took three months to prepare.

In the Bekaa region of Lebanon where Zahle is located, the winter chill lasts through April. As intermittent rain fell during the Jan. 4 distribution, the surrounding hills and mountains in the Bekaa resembled towering snowdrifts.

Especially for refugees, central heating is a luxury. Typically, families gather around a kerosene-burning stove to keep warm in the damp, concrete-walled apartments where they live. Most often they do not have money to buy the needed fuel.

Ramzi estimates that just in the Bekaa region of Lebanon, there are approximately 750,000 Syrian refugees, about 80 percent of whom are Muslim. More than 1 million Syrian refugees are registered with the UNHCR in Lebanon, a country about the size of Rhode Island. But Ramzi said the total number of Syrian refugees, including unregistered in Lebanon, is “easily” twice that amount.

Fadi Kyorkis, a Greek Orthodox also from Homs, told CNS that if the situation were better in Syria, he would go home with his family.

“We fled only to save our children,” he said. “When the terrorists came, it seemed they wanted to push the Christians out [of Syria]. Before, we were living happily. We never expected we’d have to leave like we did.”

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