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Update in Lebanon: Annual Campaign in action supporting Syrian refugees

Syria-Marjayoun-tents(From Sanitary kits, blankets and other supplies were distributed by AVSI personnel to around one thousand Syrian refugees living the Marj el Kok camp in southern Lebanon on April 18. Il was able to reach AVSI Lebanon Country Officer Marco Perini for a phone interview to share details from the day.


How many people live in the camp?

There are about a thousand people living in Marj el Kok camp; around 150 families, all of Sunni origin. They live in tents toppled on top of each other amidst low hills about twenty yards from the main road.


How many children are there?

About 40% of those living in the camps are under the age of 10, and almost all of them live with only their mother. The big news in the last few weeks has been the arrival of many of the fathers, who were previously imprisoned by the Syrian regime. Just last week the president announced an offer of amnesty for many types of crimes.


What are the health conditions like?

The situation is delicate. The families took very little with them when they left their homes, and arrived here with nothing. They have only the shirts they were wearing, with no shoes, no way to keep warm, and in most cases are malnourished. Now head lice have been added to the difficulties. Yesterday the temperature was in the 40s, with a cold rain falling.


Syrians graphic apr13 400x525What is life like in the camp?

It’s fairly calm, with some small tensions that are to be expected in such conditions. Last week, for example, when we distributed blankets and other goods, someone tried to cheat and someone else caught him. There was a bit of commotion, but everything was quickly resolved. Here everyone is facing the same thing. It’s a life of poverty. Luckily, almost all of the children are able to attend the public schools, thanks to the foresight of the Lebanese government.


What does AVSI offer to them?

We give sanitary kits, food items, clothing and blankets. Soon we will be able to provide medical care for expecting mothers and a doctor will visit the sick in the camp. We are in the process of getting supplies to treat the head lice.


What will happen to them?

Their future does not look particularly easy. The war in Syria does not seem to be nearing an end, and even if it were to end soon, who knows what the families will find upon returning home. Around here, refugees are everywhere. Right now, they make up a fourth of the entire population in Lebanon. To make a comparison, it’s as if there were [78 million refugees in the United States].


How long have you been working in the camp?

We have been familiar with the area since 1996, when the war with Israel ended. At that time the camp was very small: just a few families of seasonal laborers. On our regular visits to check on them over the last year, we discovered that it was steadily growing until it finally reached the situation we see today.


What kind of relationship do you have the people there?

I would call it a great friendship. You can see it in the smiling faces of the children who come to welcome us when we bring them the items that they need the most. Our gesture of friendship makes them happy. It’s not only the children, but also the adults who show signs of trust.


For example?

They carry themselves with real dignity; it is rare to hear anyone complain. Yesterday, during the distribution of supplies, we expected to hear them comment, “but what about the problems of the pregnant women who need care, and the lice, and the money we need to go to the hospital?” Instead, they invited us to have a cup of tea, saying that it was a day to celebrate the fact that we had done a beautiful thing together.


Archive from the field:


February 2013

An update on two projects to help Syrians seeking refuge from one of the most violent wars affecting our world today: the protagonist is AVSI Lebanon, with interventions near the border in order to save thousands of families from the cold of winter and guaranteeing that children can continue to attend school, despite the dire conditions in which they live. The two programs, vital for the survival and the future of these displaced Syrians, are being financed thanks to funds collected in AVSI’s end of the year “Tents” campaign and the European Commission. An interview by with AVSI Country Officer Marco Perini gives the details:

How many Syrian refugees are currently living in Lebanon?

Even as we speak the flood of Syrians arriving in Lebanon, both officially and unofficially, continues. The numbers are around 6,000 known refugees every week, so it's still a steady exodus. Today in Lebanon we are at about 120,000 individuals officially registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In reality, there are many more, because there are those refugees who needed to enroll with UNHCR to receive assistance, but there are also many other wealthy families, from Damascus, who can manage without political refugee status. And of course, there are those people who for various political reasons do not register for fear that the list with their names will end up in the wrong hands, which could make their future even more uncertain.

Four of your staff are present in Bekaa West. What are the components of your project there?

It is an ongoing project, building on previous work in Lebanon and Jordan, which remains urgent and dramatic. We are working in four regions to help over 2,000 people, including Syrians who have not yet been registered by UNHCR, as well as Lebanese returners. This last group is comprised of those who had been living in Syria for many years, but for many reasons have now returned to Lebanon, where they no longer own anything. Under the coordination of UNHCR and in partnership with the European Commission (ECHO), we are providing them with kits to allow them to fight the cold. In December, West Bekaa was under a blanket of snow. 

Where are the refugees living?

The refugees are hosted in tents or in cramped rooms in cement buildings with no floors. When they arrived, it was still warm and they came with summer clothing and shoes. We distribute blankets, heating stoves and gasoline to keep them from dying from the cold. Our funding comes from AVSI Annual Campaign contributions from individual donors in Italy and around the world, and from the European Union. To date, AVSI has distributed 400 fuel vouchers, 160 stoves, and 2110 blankets for 422 families in Karoun, Mdoucha, Lala and Machghara regions.

And in southern Lebanon?

In the areas bordering Israel, specifically in Marjayoun and Bint Jbeil provinces, we are working in 11 public Lebanese schools which have accepted Syrian children. Our goal is that they don’t miss out on the academic year, considering that Lebanese children study certain classes in English or French, while the Syrians study everything in Arabic, meaning that access to school is unequal and the new arrivals tend to cause a big drop in the level of teaching. Starting in February, in collaboration with UNICEF’s child protection unit, we will expand the remedial classes and add activities with a “Child Friendly Bus”, allowing the mobility to take recreational activities to refugee children closer to where they are living.

How do you help?

We organize daily remedial classes for the Syrian children who are behind the curriculum. At the same time, we provide psychosocial accompaniment through social workers to help the young refugees to integrate as smoothly as possible in the difficult context. You have to imagine children who find themselves in an area that’s not completely safe, living in makeshift shelters after having fled from their homes. Many refugees families are also living with just one parent, as often mothers escape with their children while the fathers stay behind in Syria to protect their homes or fight the war.

Is life on the border with Syria calm or are there conflicts among armed groups even there?

The border regions of Lebanon are used as reserve for the Free Syrian Army. It often happens that the raids of the official Army reach the villages along the border of the two countries by land or by air. Conversely, the rebel militias have bases in Lebanon, so they enter into Syria and then retreat beyond the border again.

What security measures have you taken to protect your personnel?

To work in the South, we have to have military permission, since they are regions that border Israel. In West Bekaa, we are constantly monitoring the situation through information channels of the Italian Embassy and United Nations. Some days, there are areas where we cannot enter because of security reasons. (Interview by Pietro Vernizzi)

How you can help: Annual Campaign for Syria

Read More:

AVSI profile on UNHCR website

Crisis in Syria: Helping thousands of refugees through the winter