World Watch Monitor (WWM) recently received a diary from a church leader living in Aleppo, a Syrian city at the heart of the battle between rebels and President Assad’s forces. Not long ago, Pastor Samuel* visited Beirut in neighboring Lebanon, which is now home to one million Syrian refugees.
“Beirut is one of the most expensive cities in the world; whenever I visit, I make it one of my duties to meet with Syrian refugees, especially families who left Aleppo. It is not easy meeting them when I know they’ve had to leave behind a decent life where they had jobs, owned their own apartments and were serving in the church and their communities.“
He hears stories of Syrian refugees being treated as second class citizens and being taken advantage of: working long hours at manual labor for half the salary of locals, paying almost double the usual rent for tiny one or two bedroom apartments, and risking trips back to war-torn Syria for medical care because they cannot afford to pay for it in Lebanon where health care is subsidized for citizens.
Though the numbers have diminished a little recently, more than a million Syrians still live in Lebanon as refugees. Some have been living there for almost four years. Integration has been difficult, in spite of a shared language and historical and familial ties. Some Lebanese natives are antagonistic to the Syrian refugees for the 25 years during which Syria ruled them and for competing for already scarce jobs. “You come here and take our jobs,” they say.
Pastor Samuel recalled a story shared by a fifteen-year-old student: “During one of my geography classes, the teacher talked about the water issue in Lebanon. He showed us the rivers of Lebanon on the map and told us about the richness of the country because of the mineral water. But then he said that because of the Syrian refugees, the country now has a shortage of drinking water… The students turned their heads towards us Syrians. They looked at me as if I was the only one using all the water of Lebanon and causing the shortage.”
“Syrians can no longer get a work permit,” continued Pastor Samuel, “and they need to keep renewing their visas to stay in Lebanon, which means paying a lot of money. They also need to renew the contracts on their houses every couple of months, which generally means paying an increased rent to the owner.” Some families cannot afford the expensive school fees, so their children are working to supplement the family income. “I worry about these children—what will happen to them after missing several years of education? What will happen to them in the future?”
“When I met refugees in Lebanon some years ago, most of them said that they were expecting the war to end within a couple of weeks or months, and that they would be able to return to their homes and jobs. But the war has continued for four and a half years now, and there’s still no end in sight,” Pastor Samuel continued. “These challenges and complicated laws make Syrians want to leave the country, so many try to leave Lebanon legally by getting a visa. However not everyone can get one, so many try illegal ways to reach Europe. Because Christian families will not live in refugee camps, their chances of getting to Europe with the help of the UN are very small, and their only option is to use smugglers.
(*not his real name, changed for his protection)
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father God, who is mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, and who is merciful and just, we call on You to hear the cries of Syrian Christians who have fled to Lebanon from the civil war in their own land, who have lost everything. Where they are despised, show them Your steadfast love for them. Where they are in need, provide food and shelter and medical care. Where they are experiencing injustice, be their advocate. When they turn to You for answers and guidance, provide options and help. Where they are consumed with fear, grant them courage. Overwhelm them with Your incomprehensible peace. In the Name of Jesus, who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together, Amen.