On May 22nd, 2013, at the refugee camp of Marj el Kok in Southern Lebanon, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) visited AVSI’s activities concerning the Syrian emergency.The delegation included Ms. Maria Palacios (Lebanon desk officer) and Mr. Christophe Pateron (Syria desk officer) from Brussels, Mr. Bruno Rotival (ECHO representative in Lebanon) and Ms. Mona Imad (ECHO expert) from Beirut. Together with Mr. Marco Perini and Ms. Chiara Nava, AVSI representatives in the country, they focused on the impact of the Syrian crisis in South Lebanon, in particular on the role played by AVSI both in Marj el Kok camp and generally in the area.
After the meeting, the delegation went to the refugee camp following the road that runs along the sensitive border with Israel. In Marj el Kok everyone could verify the urgent need for immediate response and the work AVSI has already done.
Ms. Palacios and Mr. Paterson were then guests of a family living in a tent where they could talk directly to the camp residents.
According to Marco Perini “ECHO’s visit to our activities in the South of the country is certainly an important recognition of what we are doing and we hope it will soon become a new and effective support for the 952 people living in Marj el KoK”The number of Syrian refugees hosted in the neighbouring countries, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, are 1,557,134, of which 485,282 in Lebanon.
Some data of AVSI’s activities in the field:
- Thanks to ECHO funding, AVSI is distributing NFIs (mattresses, blankets, hygiene kits, kitchen sets) to new comers in the districts of West Bekaa and Rachaya, in the villages of Qaraoun, Lala, Mdoukha, Baaloul And Machgara. More than 1,000. households will be reached by the end of the project scheduled for the last week of July.
- In the municipalities of Baaloul and Qaraoun, thanks to COR UNUM funding, support to more than 100 households (not registered with UNHCR and new comers) has been provided. A total of 400 mattresses, 300 blankets, 100 infant care kits and 100 carpets have been distributed. Within the UNICEF project, implemented in the regions of Marjayoun and Bent Jbeil a total of 236 children (156 Lebanese and 80 Syrian) have been reached. Furthermore, recreational activities and psycho-social support have been provided for other 122 children.
- 1,000 people, with particular attention to women and children, in the Marj el Kok camp received medical examinations, the first since they fled Syria to escape the civil war.
- By request of the Ministry of Education and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), AVSI shared with the Education Working Group its information leaflets for pupils and their families on hygiene practices, promoted in collaboration with UNICEF.
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Ilsussidiario.net interviewed Marco Perini, AVSI Country Officer in Lebanon.
How many people live in the camp? There are about a thousand people living in Marj el Kok camp; around 150 families, all of Sunni origin. They live in tents toppled on top of each other amidst low hills about twenty yards from the main road.
How many children are there? About 40% of those living in the camps are under the age of 10, and almost all of them live with only their mother. The big news in the last few weeks has been the arrival of many of the fathers, who were previously imprisoned by the Syrian regime. Just last week the president announced an offer of amnesty for many types of crimes.
What are the health conditions like? The situation is delicate. The families took very little with them when they left their homes, and arrived here with nothing. They have only the shirts they were wearing, with no shoes, no way to keep warm, and in most cases are malnourished. Now head lice have been added to the difficulties. Yesterday the temperature was in the 40s, with a cold rain falling.
What is life like in the camp? It’s fairly calm, with some small tensions that are to be expected in such conditions. Last week, for example, when we distributed blankets and other goods, someone tried to cheat and someone else caught him. There was a bit of commotion, but everything was quickly resolved. Here everyone is facing the same thing. It’s a life of poverty. Luckily, almost all of the children are able to attend the public schools, thanks to the foresight of the Lebanese government.
What does AVSI offer to them? We give sanitary kits, food items, clothing and blankets. Soon we will be able to provide medical care for expecting mothers and a doctor will visit the sick in the camp. We are in the process of getting supplies to treat the head lice.
What will happen to them? Their future does not look particularly easy. The war in Syria does not seem to be nearing an end, and even if it were to end soon, who knows what the families will find upon returning home. Around here, refugees are everywhere. Right now, they make up a fourth of the entire population in Lebanon. To make a comparison, it’s as if there were [78 million refugees in the United States].
How long have you been working in the camp? We have been familiar with the area since 1996, when the war with Israel ended. At that time the camp was very small: just a few families of seasonal laborers. On our regular visits to check on them over the last year, we discovered that it was steadily growing until it finally reached the situation we see today. What kind of relationship do you have with the people there? I would call it a great friendship. You can see it in the smiling faces of the children who come to welcome us when we bring them the items that they need the most. Our gesture of friendship makes them happy. It’s not only the children, but also the adults who show signs of trust.
For example? They carry themselves with real dignity; it is rare to hear anyone complain. Yesterday, during the distribution of supplies, we expected to hear them comment, “but what about the problems of the pregnant women who need care, and the lice, and the money we need to go to the hospital?” Instead, they invited us to have a cup of tea, saying that it was a day to celebrate the fact that we had done a beautiful thing together.