Joy Toose, social media manager for World Vision Australia, spent a month reporting from Lebanon about the Syrian refugees who fled there to escape violence in their home country. Today, she shares three things that she learned about the refugee crisis that you should know, too.
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Stories about the conflict in Syria have been popping up in my news feeds for the past two years. Most of them have focused on the fighting between the government and rebels: Who has taken which city? Who has gained the upper hand?
But I’ve heard much less in the news about the refugee crisis that this conflict has caused.
Now that I’m in Lebanon, I’m meeting some of those families.
My time here has confirmed for me that the Syrian conflict is complex. I’ve had a difficult time getting my head around it all -- but here are a few things I’ve learned.
1. Nearly 6 million people have been forced to leave their homes.
Imagine if almost all the residents of Los Angeles and Chicago combined were forced to flee their homes. The Syrians I’ve met had little choice; the war literally came to their suburbs, their streets, their apartments.
The 1.6 million refugees represent a fraction of the people affected. There are 4.25 million more people displaced within Syria by the conflict.
Forza, a mother of five boys, told me about her former life in Syria. Her husband worked in a supermarket. They lived in a three-bedroom apartment near a university in Homs. When Homs became a hotspot for violence, they moved in with relatives. Soon, that area was caught up in the fighting, too.
Finally, Forza and her boys fled. She has since heard that their apartment block was destroyed in a missile attack. There is no home for them to return to. Forza didn’t want to talk about her husband; he had not come with them to Lebanon.
This family’s story is not unique. The refugees I’ve spoken with have all been directly affected by violence. Some escaped as their homes were hit by missiles; others have scars from shrapnel, bullets, and burns.
“They’ve been fighting for almost two years already,” Forza says. She is not hopeful about returning home or seeing an end to the crisis soon.
2. At least half of the Syrians affected are children.
The lives of the Syrian children I met break my heart. They are in tough situations; the stories of their pasts are harrowing; their future is uncertain.
Forza’s teenage sons, Ahmad and Mahamed, sat still and somber while their younger brothers reached for my camera and played loudly in the tent.
I asked about a toy tank that sat on the ground. Mahmoud showed me how he had seen tanks driving up and down roads, firing sideways, using his toy to recreate the movements. He told me that he worries about his friends; he doesn’t know where they are or if they’re safe. He misses school.
Like many children in the refugee settlements, Forza’s sons have little to do during the day. They help their mother or play outside in the dirt with whatever they can find.
World Vision provides Child-Friendly Spaces where children can play safely. We offer programs to help them make up for lost schooling and prepare them to enroll in Lebanese public schools. This is their hope for the future.
3. Neighboring countries face challenges.
My friend has lived in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city, for almost a year. The city has changed around her. Today, refugees are visible everywhere, begging on footpaths and sleeping under bridges and shopfronts.
Tent settlements have sprung up in empty fields.
Syrian refugees now make up 10 percent of Lebanon’s population. The Lebanese people who welcomed them two years ago now worry about limited resources like electricity, schools, and housing. These and others are all stretched to the breaking point.
All of Syria’s neighbors feel the effects of the war. The financial and societal challenges of hosting 1.6 million refugees are extreme.
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That’s what I know. Millions of Syrians, more than half of them children, have fled their homes. The refugees depend on help from governments and organizations like World Vision.
I hope that, through their own strength and determination and the generosity of others, the refugee children I’ve met will grow up healthy, educated, and in peace.
Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide emergency assistance for Syrian refugees. Your gift will help us deliver basic hygiene kits and food vouchers for refugee families, as well as support initiatives to help refugee children continue their education away from home.
Please join us in prayer for all World Vision staff members working around the world, particularly in this region of conflict.