Surviving forced exile: Shelter for Syrian refugees in Lebanon

by Julia Slater,
Dec 29, 2012 – 10:44

“Forced exile is the worst situation you can have,” says Caroline Nanzer, Swiss delegate in Lebanon of the disaster relief organisation Caritas Switzerland. She speaks from her experience working with Syrians who have fled the unrest at home.

Since the uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad broke out in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has registered 160,000 in Lebanon, although Nanzer says many do not sign up, fearing they might find their names on some sort of blacklist at home.

Despite the huge numbers, the Lebanese government has not allowed the UNHCR to set up formal camps to house them. Instead, the refugees have either rented apartments in private houses or have put up tents in so-called tented settlements on land rented from private individuals.

Caritas Switzerland, which provides emergency disaster relief and works on reconstruction and development all over the world, is cooperating with a number of partners to help these refugees. With the onset of cold weather, it is providing blankets and warm clothing, and waterproofing the tents with plastic sheeting in addition to distributing such things as basic food and medicines.

Nanzer told about the challenges they face.

Young Syrian refugees in a camp in northern Lebanon. Picture: Sam Tarling, Caritas (Keystone) What kind of people is Caritas concentrating on?

Caroline Nanzer: We are looking after families living in informal camps. We see this kind of camp all over Lebanon, in the Bekaa valley, but also in the north. We decided to look after this kind of family because they are the most vulnerable ones, who cannot afford to pay rent.

In the Bekaa, where 60-70 per cent of the Syrian refugees are living, prices have shot up.
Caritas Switzerland

Caritas Switzerland is part of the international organisation Caritas Internationalis.

According to its website, its activities include the provision of emergency disaster relief.

It also “cooperates with partners …to implement reconstruction projects and promote sustainable development.”

In Switzerland it works to combat poverty and support social integration.

Abroad it supports projects in a range of countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

It is helping Syrian refugees by providing food, blankets, toiletries, clothing and medical aid.

It has distributed plastic sheeting to waterproof their tents, which are often made of simple sacking.

It also offers psychological and social counselling.

In Lebanon, Caritas Switzerland operates through its local partner, Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre.

As an “implementing partner” it receives money from the UNHCR and other institutional donors for its work in Lebanon.

It also receives funding from Swiss Solidarity, a foundation that raises money for humanitarian relief, and which is backed by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.

On the ground in Lebanon it works with organisations including the Danish Refugee Council, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Handicap International, International Medical Corps and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Does this produce tension with the local Lebanese population?

C.N.: We should recognise that over 50 per cent of the Syrian families are sheltered by Lebanese families themselves. They have been extremely supportive.

I’ve heard many stories about how Lebanese families fled to Syria when Lebanon was attacked by Israel in 2006. So when the unrest started in Syria, many of the Syrian families who had sheltered Lebanese in 2006 went to Lebanon to be sheltered by the same families where friendships had started from the time of the war.

read more here: on SWISSINFO:

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