Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pope, Hope and the Inside Dope: Aiding Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

            Pope Francis visited Jordan last week and made a point of reminding the world that some 600,000 Syrian refugees from that nation's devastating conflict are now living within Jordan's borders. He asked the rest of the world not to leave Jordan, a small country of only 6.3 million people, alone with this burden.
            It takes something like a visit by the Pope to put the Syrian refugee crisis in the news. Francis thanked Jordan for its "generous welcome" to Syrian refugees and called for an urgent resolution to a war now in its fourth year.
            But Jordan's not the only small country dealing with the refugees from a war that's taken an outrageous toll on the civilian population.
            Lebanon, a country with even fewer resources, is dealing with about one million refugees. A recent report by our daughter's company, Ibtikar Research & Consulting, looked into the UN-led humanitarian aid effort for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Despite a considerable international effort (though most nations have not provided the funding the UN requested to finance its relief plan), the report concluded that the effort is suffering from a failure to seek input from "the Syrian refugee and host communities when designing relief aid strategy and implementation."
            Titled "The international aid community and local actors: Experiences and testimonies from the ground," the report was written by Leila Zakharia and Sonya Knox.
            Reading it, I am driven to conclude that the bigger the organization or institution attacking any social problem, the harder it is for that entity to turn its ear to the little people on the ground directly affected by the crisis.
            The international humanitarian effort, the authors state, "has been tremendous, particularly given this crisis’ evolving challenges, including the wide dispersal of refugees in 1,650 different locations across Lebanon, with 85% of the refugee population not residing in camps."
            However, "despite Lebanon’s long history of local and civil society responses to a variety of complex emergencies," the report states, "the relief, recovery and development work undertaken by Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations is mainly overlooked by the international humanitarian community, and their insights and suggestions ignored."
            One of the sad ironies of the Syrian refugee situation is the presence among this refugee population of large numbers of Palestinians -- members of the Palestinian refugee community, that is, who have remained a people without a country since driven from their homeland by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Now forced to flee their homes in Syria by relentless attacks on rebel-held territory by the Syrian government, these refugees find themselves reduced once again to homelessness and penury.
            To make matters worse, the legal status of a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon is worse than that in Syria where Palestinians possessed the legal right to work -- a right they have never been granted by Lebanon's fragmented political system.
            Nevertheless, Ibtikar's report found some positive developments in the response efforts of the displaced Syrian community acting in concert with small community-based Lebanese organizations. "One of the untold stories of the relief response to the Syrian emergency in Lebanon," the authors state, "is the flourishing of new relief and development organizations founded by Syrian refugees and dedicated to helping Syrian refugees and their host communities."
            The report quotes the director of one of the larger Syrian-founded relief groups:“We were born to respond to the gaps left by the UN’s refugee response, and our work is presented to the people as by Syrians for Syrians.”
            The full report is on line at the "Lebanon Support" website.
            The link is: