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Humanitarian Crisis Grows for Syrian Refugees

By Caroline Brennan
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They are predominantly mothers, children and grandparents, and they bear the wounds of a war they never intended to fight.

Catholic Relief Services is supporting urgent medical care and emergency relief for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in the areas most affected by the conflict across the region.

Noujad lost her husband to the violence in Syria and her son is still missing.

Noujad, far right, lost her husband to the violence in Syria, and her son is still missing. With her family, she fled to northern Jordan, where CRS is supporting Caritas Jordan's efforts to help Syrian refugees with basic necessities and medical care. Photo by Bill Lyons for CRS

Longing To Be Together

The families coming into Jordan and Lebanon say they represent pieces of something that might never again be whole. Emotions in the clinics and at refugees' temporary homes run deep, along with an underlying theme of despair for the loss of life as they knew it.

For Noujad, a grandmother in her sixties, she never saw this coming.

"I am thinking throughout the night: How can it be that my husband was killed and my son was kidnapped?" she asks. "The heart of a mother is very sensitive. Nobody can feel the way a mother does…. When her son gets sick, a mother can't sleep in the night. My son is missing, and I can't sleep in the night. I want nothing but patience from God. We had no idea we would be leaving Syria this way. For my husband who left us, may he rest in peace. I hope he is in heaven now. I only ask that God protects my son."

Noujad and her extended family are receiving food; relief supplies such as stoves, soap and blankets; and regular visits by Caritas staff in their temporary home.

Syrian woman hanging laundry in tent city.

Photo by Sam Tarling for Caritas Switzerland

Syrian Refugees Find Help in Camps

Your support is helping CRS and partner Caritas deliver desperately needed food and other supplies to families forced to flee their homes. Learn how.

Ziad Rshidat Abu-yamai, 52, is living the life of a single father, waiting for word that his wife has finally made it across the border. In her last attempt, she was turned back. Ziad is struggling with anxiety over what has become of her and his two daughters. At the same time, though, he must calm the fears of his 7-year-old son.

"I think too much of my wife and daughter," he says. "I keep thinking of what they might be doing now. Will they be kidnapped, killed or raped? My son cries for them at night. He hasn't seen his mother in 7 months."

Ziad brings his son for a counseling session at the Caritas clinic in the Jordanian border town of Mafraq. The counselor, Lana, gives the young boy crayons, which doesn't hurt, says Ziad, who tells the counselor that he's noticed a significant improvement in his son's demeanor since the weekly visits.

"I have nothing to do but remain strong, to look after my child and to keep things normal," says Ziad. "It will take time, especially for our children, to get over what they have witnessed. It won't be easy. My son always asks the same questions about who are hurting people. He is even drawing guns with his crayons. I wish fathers around the world never have to live the experience we have lived. I wish for no one to have lived this—and for them to live normally and happily with their children."

Salam Zekkar, daughter Suna, Suna's son Bashara  and her daughter Silian, and Debo Issa Turk

"We are lucky to just be with each other," says Debo Issa Turk, far right, sitting at the Caritas Clinic near Amman, Jordan, with his family, Syrian Christians: from left to right, his wife, Salam Zekkar, their daughter Suna, and Suna's son Bashara and daughter Silian. Photo by Bill Lyons for CRS

Salam Zekkar, 57, is one of the lucky ones: Her entire family is with her. They are among the minority of Christian families who were living in Syria. She and her husband grew up together—"I knew at the age of 13 I wanted to marry him," she says—and they can't imagine ever being apart.

"I had two choices: to hold a gun and to fight, or to escape," said Salam's husband, Debo Issa Turk. "I had no choice."

'Things That Weren't Supposed to Happen'

"Our home back in Syria was very beautiful," says Salam. "We had a big bathroom and kitchen, a large salon and guestroom."

"Our living room was painted white, and the kids' room was painted brown," her husband continues. "We used to sing. I have a good voice, and we were part of the church choir."

But in July 2011, things started to change with murmurs of kidnappings. Things that weren't supposed to happen in these neighborhoods—to these towns, to these families—started to happen. And then, the unthinkable: On their walk to a bakery, some women were shot.

"We escaped in the middle of the night. God protected us," says Debo. "We came to Jordan with nothing—literally with the clothes on our backs. The most important thing is that our kids are safe. I didn't even take my last paycheck when we left. I couldn't look back."

Salam and Debo's family is like many who yearn to be back home in Syria—some refugees are counting the days. They long even more to be together, to have their loved ones safe and within reach.

"We stare in front of two emotions now," says Debo. "Emotionally, we want to be back home in Syria by Christmas. Logically, we know that it is impossible to go back now. We know that we are lucky to just be with each other—to have each other. Our family is everything."

The Catholic Relief Services Response

Faiza Alabed holds her newborn, with her son by her side.

Faiza Alabed holds her newborn, with her son by her side. The family fled the violence in Syria for the safety of Jordan. Photo by Bill Lyons for CRS

In close coordination with our long-term partners, Caritas Jordan and Caritas Lebanon, Catholic Relief Services is providing people with:

  • Food: CRS is supplying vegetable cooking oil, beans, rice, lentils and sugar to refugees.
  • Medical care: Refugees benefit from high-quality medical and dental care at eight clinics across Jordan. Services include counseling for survivors (especially children) of trauma. Because a number of refugees suffered wounds during the violence, and many lack access to medical care, the need for these services is significant.
  • Hygiene and sanitation: CRS is distributing soap, sanitary napkins, buckets and other materials to help prevent crises, such as waterborne diseases. Teams of CRS staff members and volunteers are teaching survivors about hygiene practices, such as hand-washing, safe waste disposal and ways to keep water clean.
  • Emergency household supplies: CRS is providing prepackaged relief kits of bedding, kitchen sets, fans and other essential living supplies to arriving refugees.

    Caroline Brennan is a CRS senior communications officer. She is based in Chicago.

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