Caritas worker laments dire plight of Syrian refugees

A New Zealand aid worker says the situation in overflowing Syrian refugee camps remains hopeless as the country marks three years of civil war.

The brutal Syrian conflict has left an estimated 146,000 people dead, half of them reportedly civilians, and caused millions to flee.

Aid experts say up to 4 million people could be displaced by the end of this year, making it the worst exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago, and there is no end to the conflict or solution to the refugee crisis in sight.

Mark Mitchell, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand’s Humanitarian Programmes co-ordinator, recently returned from Lebanon where more than 1.2 million refugees have sought safety. He said the situation there was dire.

“The feeling I had was in many ways a sense of hopelessness. At the moment Syrians I met in Lebanon feel there is no end in sight,” he said.

Syrian refugees, most of whom live outside the camps, were forced to find shelter where they could, including in abandoned chicken coops, storage sheds or other derelict structures, often without running water.

Diseases such as cholera and polio were major concerns in the cramped and unhealthy conditions, Mr Mitchell said.

He said the refugee influx was also putting a huge strain on resources in Lebanon.

“Imagine if war started in Australia and we suddenly had 1.2 million refugees in an area the size of Northland? It’s hard to imagine, but it is just the situation in Lebanon.”

Mr Mitchell urged people to donate to aid organisations as the UN launches its largest-ever appeal for a single humanitarian crisis, saying $6.5 billion was needed to meet the need of all those affected.

New Zealanders have already donated more than $2m while the Government has given $12.5m to help those agencies.

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News category: Asia Pacific, Top Story.

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