Lebanon Migrant Center Aids Iraqi Refugees

Photojournalist David Snyder, on assignment for CRS, sent this report from Lebanon.

Iraqi Refugees

A view of the Zeatrieh neighborhood of Beirut, which has become a magnet for Iraqi refugees fleeing to Lebanon. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

I spent the day today in Beirut, meeting with Iraqi refugees receiving assistance through the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center. It’s not my first time here, nor is it my first time with the staff of the center. I was in Lebanon in 2006, when fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants displaced tens of thousands here. Caught up in the conflict, thousands of migrant workers, many of them Sri Lankan, flocked to the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center for help. For days I watched as the staff worked to process paperwork for panicked and frightened workers, seeking to flee the country.

Today the tide is moving in reverse. With support from Catholic Relief Services, Caritas is helping Iraqi refugees, headed through Lebanon, bound for anywhere but back to Iraq. I met families today in the neighborhood of Zeatrieh – a cramped network of side streets that houses hundreds of Iraqi families. Most have little, some have nothing, and almost all have overstayed the visas that helped them escape Iraq.

Though they are registered with the United Nations, and are recognized as refugees, the wheels of resettlement move slowly. Destined for a new life in a third country, they are for the moment in limbo, with few opportunities for employment, and the constant specter of uncertainty.

Iraqi Refugees

An Iraqi refugee holds the threatening letter, slipped under his door in Mosul, Iraq, that finally forced him and his family to flee the country. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

I spent an hour or so with a family of four, sharing a single room in Zeatrieh, adjoined by a small kitchen. They want neither their names nor their photos used – not a surprise when you heard their story of fear and intimidation as Christians in the town of Mosul, which saw an upsurge in anti-Christian violence in the late summer of 2008. They left, finally, when a letter slid under their door threatening the husband with death if he stayed. They have a copy with them – one last reminder, when they need it, of why they left.

They have help now, thanks to the migrant center. Their rent – $150 a month – is paid. They were provided with four mattresses, and a small heater against the Lebanese winter. The husband, sick now with cancer, is receiving medical care. Their daughter is in school.

But as I sat there in their tiny room, looking up at the stained ceiling, I wondered what I’ve wondered hundreds of times before in my work with refugees around the world: whether I could make it in the same situation – whether I could survive it. I guess none of us know.

– David Snyder

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