That’s the nightmare facing the tiny country of Lebanon, now trying to deal with a Syrian refugee crisis – leaving it with the highest concentration of refugees per capita in the world.
And Lebanon’s problem is worse than many realise. Despite being the same size as Devon and Cornwall combined, its normal population is around 4.5 million, about two-and-a-half times the population of the two English counties. Lebanon’s existing population density is second only to Gaza in the Middle East. The influx of refugees has increased its population by over a quarter, placing an enormous strain on the local economy and society.
Embrace the Middle East, a Christian charity tackling poverty and injustice in the Middle East, has launched its summer appeal to help Syrian refugees in the overwhelmed country. Embrace works with Christian partners in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, providing practical support for the refugees. Aid is given out in food vouchers worth around £40 each. The vouchers give families some dignity as they are free to choose what they want to buy in a local shop, rather than being given a box of provisions.
When funds allow, mattresses are also provided. On a recent visit to the area Jamie Eyre, head of programmes and partnerships at Embrace, saw how valuable these can be.
‘A mattress can be a table for meals, a sofa for sitting on and a bed for sleep,’ he said. ‘Some families received mattresses last year, but the tents and makeshift accommodation they now live in are cold, wet and damp.’
Jamie points out how it was snowing in the Bekaa Valley as recently as the end of April. ‘Our Christian partner has found many refugee families suffering from infestations in their mattresses – some are so rotten it is impossible to dry them out. As they have nothing else, they end up getting sick and suffering with scabies.’
Jeremy Moodey, CEO of Embrace, said: ‘The millions of Syrians who have fled their country’s devastating civil war have become the world’s forgotten refugees. The US$5bn international appeal for humanitarian help in 2014 was barely half-funded, and this year’s US$7.4bn appeal is not even a quarter funded.’
Moodey, who has written at more length about the situation in Christian Today, said: ‘The international community is not meeting its obligations to these people, whose suffering is hard to imagine. But our Christian partners in Lebanon are doing what they can, providing for the basic needs of these Syrian refugees in a spirit of love and compassion. Their witness is truly humbling and deserves our prayerful support.’
More details of Embrace’s appeal can be found here: http://www.embraceme.org/appeal