We are happy to have this on-the-ground report from Dan Groody, C.S.C., of the University of Notre Dame:
TURKEY--The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that the number of Syrians fleeing their country’s violent conflict could number up to 700,000 by year’s end and 1.5 million by June 2013. Many of these seek help and protection from neighboring countries in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt.
For the last number of weeks I have been part of a delegation of the Migration and Refugee Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. We were sent to study the situation of the Middle East, to build networks of solidarity between countries, and to advocate at home and abroad for those most threatened in this conflict. The situation is critical. We have been meeting with UN officials, ministers of foreign affairs, ambassadors, church leaders and members of various faith based organizations who are reaching out to those fleeing the conflict.
Entry into the official and unofficial refugee camps, and speaking with the refugees themselves, has given an important window into the depth of the human struggle. One dwelling at a make-shift camp at the Lebanon-Syrian border had more than 40 children, and inside their teetering plastic-covered shelter we talked at length with three women, who were in their early twenties. They are all sister-in-laws, and each one of their husbands was recently killed in the conflict in Syria. Their pain spoke louder than their words. In the midst of the conversation one of the widows came forward with a cell phone and showed us a video of the each of their husbands as they were dying or just after being brutally killed. Then the mother of those men came into the tent. She had just been told her grandson was killed yesterday and that her fourth son is now in prison. The depth of their pain relativized every other conversation everywhere else.
As their story unfolded the Syrian refugee situation was no longer about statistics but people who had a face I could see, a hand I could touch, a shoulder I could put my arm around. Putting my mind my mind around the Middle East, it politics and its problems became more difficult as time has gone on. Even if there are complex reasons behind the conflicts, and more urgently the hesitations to respond to those in need--the fundamental reasons are very simple: People here are crying out for basic protections and a safe place to call home. And unfortunately the Syrian refugee conflict is just the tip of the vulnerability iceberg. The delegation has made us even more aware of the situation of unaccompanied minors, trafficked persons in the Sinai desert, Afghan refugees and Iraqi refugees residing in Syria, who now must flee again because of yet another war. The church and the governments in these countries—and especially Jordan and Turkey—are playing important roles giving humanitarian aid. But the need of the people here far exceeds any help currently being offered, and there is a desperate plea for greater solidarity expressed though greater humanitarian assistance.