With much of the media’s attention focused on the still-escalating crisis in Iraq and Syria, the president of Caritas Lebanon — a longtime collaborator with CNEWA — visited our New York offices this morning to remind the world that his homeland is also suffering.
And: it’s getting worse.
Rev. Paul Karam — accompanied by Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron from Brooklyn — spoke to a small gathering of journalists at CNEWA’s headquarters to underscore the difficulties many in his country are facing as a result of the dramatic surge of refugees from neighboring countries.
Father Karam said an estimated 1.6 million refugees have crowded into Lebanon — many fleeing conflicts in Iraq and Syria. This has upset the demographic balance in the country, he explained; the influx, along with hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, has cost many people jobs and put stress on the country’s resources, including electricity, water and food.
It’s also sparked an escalation in crime, including sex trafficking. All of this has had a profound impact on the country’s economy.
“Host and local communities are suffering,” Father Karam explained. “The Lebanese are getting more poor.” He told of a mall that opened 18 months ago. At the time, 76 percent of the employees were Lebanese. Now, it’s down to 22 percent. Local unemployment has skyrocketed. This, in turn, is creating more challenges for Caritas and other aid organizations, as the number of needy families — both refugees and Lebanese — continues to grow.
In spite of such dire numbers, Father Karam said he remains hopeful that the international community will support Lebanon, one of the most stable and welcoming democracies in the Middle East.
Both Father Karam and Bishop Mansour emphasized the importance of maintaining Christianity in the region where it began. And they asked us to help get out the word — and encourage ongoing prayers for the Lebanese people.
“The Christian presence in the Middle East is something that’s very dynamic in Lebanon,” said Bishop Mansour. “Caritas is a symbol of Christ’s presence amid the poor.”