Unrest in the Middle East, particularly Syria and Iraq, has unleashed an historical humanitarian crisis. “In almost four years of war, nearly half of Syria’s population of 23 million people has been uprooted,” writes special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie in a New York Times op-ed.
According to UNHCR, the deteriorating security situation and armed conflict in Iraq have triggered new waves of internal displacement in that country as well. “Within Iraq itself, more than two million people have fled conflict and the terror unleashed by extremist groups,” writes Jolie.
According to USA Today, although they make up only about 5% of Iraq’s population, Christians make up nearly 40% of the refugees fleeing Iraq, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I met a woman and her children (above) who are living temporarily in Beirut while waiting with other Iraqi refugees to receive monthly food distributions provided by Heart for Lebanon. I met ReGina (woman with glasses, above) at a bible study for Iraqi women; she fled Mosul after she and her daughter were injured by a car bomb as they left church. Regina lost two fingers in the explosion; her daughter has scars all over her body from the shrapnel, some of which is still embedded. I met a family (mother and father with children, above) who fled Iraq after an ISIS bombing killed their four year old son and injured his cousins while they were playing outside. They carry pictures of him on their cell phone.
In January 2015, UNHCR estimated nearly 1.8 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, 1.6 in Turkey and 800,000 in Jordan. In Lebanon, refugees live wherever they can find: sheds, houses under construction, multiple families crammed into single-family apartments and tent settlements.
In a press release, Care International references World Vision, who reports “rents in parts of Lebanon have soared, often by as much as 200 per cent in just a six month period. Though rents are increasing, employment opportunities and pay have not kept pace.” Often extended or multiple families will share one apartment; the Iraqi family above shares one bedroom in an apartment they share with other families.
According to UNHCR, there are more than 850 of these informal tent-settlements set up in vacant lots, abandoned buildings, garages, sheds and on farmland in the Bekaa Valley. A New York Times article reports that the United Nations estimates that the percentage of refugees living in “insecure dwellings” had risen to 55 percent from 35 percent the last year. Above, Syrian refugee children walk through slush and mud from melting snow in a tent settlement in the Bekaa Valley. During the January 2015 snowstorm in the Bekaa Valley, many shelters collapsed from the weight of the snow, like this one.
“Nearly half of Syrians registered as refugees with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are under 18,” writes Gordon Brown in We are failing the children of Syria and Lebanon. “It is estimated that the number of Syrian refugee children who are between the ages of three and 18 will rise to 655,000,” says Brown.
According to UNHCR, children like these, whom I met in a tent settlement in the Bekaa Valley, “are at a greater risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or forced military recruitment.” Many of them have suffered trauma and loss. Nawara’s two brothers and father were killed in Syria (girl in blue jacket, above). She now lives in a tent settlement in the Bekaa Valley and attends a small school for refugee children run by Heart for Lebanon. She is one of very few Syrian or Iraq refugee children who have access to schools. Above, a Syrian refugee boy in Sidon listens to a Heart for Lebanon worker encourage parents to sign up their children for a new informal education school that will open for 60 students. Lebanon has plans to double-shift its schools in order to accommodate more children, but that will still leave tens of thousands without access to education.
“The lack of prospect for peace or stability in the region in the near future offers little hope of the situation improving in 2015,” reports UNHCR. “The Home to several overlapping crises and humanitarian emergencies, the Middle East is likely to witness further internal and external displacement, with vast numbers of existing refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) requiring direct humanitarian support.”
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