Notes from Lebanon – The plight of Iraqi Refugees

William O’Keefe, senior director for advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, is traveling in the Holy Land with Bishop Gerald Kicanas, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He sends this report:

Greetings from Beirut. I am at the end of a very packed, but successful week here in Lebanon. It has been a whirlwind of field visits, Church and religious leader meetings, and political meetings.

Without summarizing everything, I’ll highlight a few points. The field visits and partner discussions have been excellent. We visited a safe house for abused migrant women, several Iraqi refugee families, and a local governance consensus building project in the South. The plight of the migrant women and the refugees is just horrific. As in many places, these poor people have been through unspeakable horrors and injustices. The number of refugees increased during the second half of the year, especially as violence targeted to Christians appears to be on the rise. The staff of the Caritas Migrant Center combine obvious competence, with empathy and compassion.

The political situation is much better this time than two years ago, but people are still very worried. The murder of Coptic Christians by extremists in southern Egypt yesterday made many of the leaders we met very anxious. No one appears to want another war, but they all are afraid that the public reconciliation of the political leaders and parties is hollow. Meanwhile, everyone is concerned about an Israeli incursion or spiral of violence resulting from some sort of Iran/Israel incident or conflict.

We met with Congressman Hastings of Florida today. He and his staff are traveling around the region assessing the humanitarian and political situation.  The bulk of the meeting was a solid presentation about Iraqi refugees by CRS’ partner, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center.  An Iraqi woman and her son came with them and described the violence and threats to which their family was subjected in Iraq. Her son had survived a kidnapping and her husband was murdered; the remaining family members are traumatized. Caritas has helped them get set-up here, and apply for resettlement, but all we could do today was express our sorrow and pledge to do whatever we can to assist them and others like them.

Rep. Hastings is a strong advocate and leader for U.S. assistance to Iraqi refugees. After the meeting, he expressed appreciation for CRS and renewed his own commitment to meeting the needs of the refugees (including displaced folks in Iraq).  It has been great to travel with Bishop Kicanas from Tucson, as he is articulate in supporting us, our partners, the people we meet, and the need for more and better assistance. His support means a lot to those we have been meeting.

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