The people of Lebanon had every reason to turn away the “flood” of refugees from Syria, but Christians have led the way in welcoming and caring for them. Jeremy Moodey learns from their example
How should we respond to the terrible, almost apocalyptic, saga unfolding in Syria? A popular uprising which began in March 2011 has led to one of the most brutal and intractable civil wars of modern times – a civil war where the sheer mathematics of suffering is mind-numbing. Did you know that in January of this year, the UN stopped making announcements about the death toll because it had basically lost count? A UK-based NGO, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, puts the death toll at a minimum figure of 150,000, and possibly as high as 220,000. At least a third of the dead are civilians. The whole fabric of Syrian society has been turned on its head. Beautiful historic cities like Aleppo have been left in ruins. So-called “peace talks” in Geneva have ended in acrimony. The international community has taken sides – the west, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states supporting the rebels – while Iran and Russia support the Assad regime. It is a terrible mess.
And then there are the refugees. Here, the UN and other international bodies have at least tried to keep on counting. It is estimated that around 9.5 million Syrians, almost half of the pre-war population, have been displaced by the violence – three million going to neighbouring countries, while the rest are internally displaced.
I want to tell you about one particular response which might serve as model for our own: That of Lebanese Christians to the Syrian refugees who have arrived in enormous numbers in their country.
The impact of the Syrian civil war on the beautiful but tiny country of Lebanon has been enormous. Lebanon is half the size of Wales, and, before the Syrian uprising, it had a population of around four million, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the Middle East. The population was a fragile balance of Sunni, Shia and Christian, with some Druze – and around 400,000 Palestinian refugees who had been living in squalid refugee camps for decades. This balance had on occasions been shattered, for example in the terrible Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990, which claimed over 120,000 lives, but, from the 1990s, Lebanon had found a degree of stability and reconciliation, albeit occasionally punctuated by violence, such as during the Israeli invasion of 2006.
This is an extract from the July/August 2014 edition of Reform.