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Mar 24
Witnessing a refugee crisis
M-E trip January 2015-1B.jpg 
In part 1​ of our interview with Carl Hétu, national director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), he described his trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories with an international delegation of bishops. Following that visit, he travelled to neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon to meet refugees from war-torn Syria. Hétu shared with us his first-hand account of their plight.

1. Describe the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

In Jordan, there are some mega-camps that have now become small cities. There are also the urban refugees that nobody talks about. I visited these refugees who are living in small apartments housing two or three families. Unbelievably, a two-bedroom apartment can oftentimes house anywhere from 12 to 20 people.

The situation is also less-than-ideal for those living in parish halls. For example, in Amman, I visited the Catholic Melkite Church. It opened its doors last September to welcome 35 Iraqi Christian families–all victims of the Islamic State. They transformed the parish hall and presbytery into small apartments separated by plywood so that families could have a semi-private space. They added temporary toilets and showers and the kitchen was re-equipped; they received mattresses, winter clothing, heaters and much more.

In Lebanon, people aren’t in camps per se, but are living as urban refugees or are in tents on farm land in small villages. The family of Mariam, Ra’ed and their three children are Syrian refugees from Aleppo currently living in Lebanon. “We lost everything and have been on the run for two years,” they said. “For the first time, we lived in hunger for months until we came across to this village in Lebanon. My kids missed two years of school and have witnessed what no kids should. Now thanks to the Sisters of [the] Good Shepherd, my kids can go to school, are laughing again and are no longer hungry. But we are still refugees living in tents.”

2. How are those countries coping with the massive influx of refugees?

Lebanon and Jordan wouldn’t be able to do so on their own. There are over 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon and 1.1 million in Jordan, with more coming from Iraq. The United Nations plays an important role, but others like Caritas, Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association are all very important players – each one having its own role and responsibility.

Let me share with you how the influx of refugee affects poor areas of Beirut in Lebanon. “Our clinic first opened to serve poor Lebanese people in this poor neighborhood,” Sister Georgette of the Good Shepherd recalls, as she told me about her clinic in Beirut, Lebanon. “Now all the refugees come here, since it is the only place they can live cheaply in the city. But there is a lot of exploitation. Local businesses are replacing Lebanese employees with refugees at half the salary, causing more suffering among the Lebanese. So now, we deal with food distribution, caring for families with social problems, and then health. We are overwhelmed and tired. Our doctors and nurses want to quit. And we don’t know how long this will last. We have God at our side guiding us, but this war in Syria needs to stop now. It is causing so much suffering.”

M-E trip Jan 2015-2C.jpg

3. Tell us how Canadians can help Christians in the Holy Land through the work of CNEWA.

CNEWA’s main work is to work through, with and for the Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East. Our priority is to ensure the Christians there continue to do their good work and to help them remain in the region where it is possible. Here is what people can help us do by making a donation to CNEWA:

  • Supply food, shelter, water and other essentials to impoverished families, including refugees displaced by war.
  • Sustain Catholic medical clinics that serve poor and refugee communities.
  • Assist the work of Catholic-run schools for rural and urban children.
  • Fund facilities that nurture orphans, the elderly and people with special needs.
  • Ensure people get psychological and spiritual support.
  • Enable Christians who are staying behind to keep their community alive by helping their Church ministries, priests and seminarians.

Donations to CNEWA can be made online at, by phone toll-free at 1-866-322-4441, or by mail to 1247 Kilborn Place, Ottawa, Ontario, K1H 6K9. Photos courtesy of CNEWA Canada.​​


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