Syrian refugees: heartrending stories of loss, grief, pain and need

By Katie Harrison
April 8, 2013

Last month, thousands of people in the UK stopped for a moment, lit candles, and thought of the children from Syria who have lost their homes. Many prayed, asking God to bring comfort and peace to the more than a million people who have left Syria and to the many thousands who are still in the country.

I met some of those people when I visited Lebanon and Jordan As you’d expect, people had heart-rending stories of loss, grief, pain and need.

And, even though there is a lot of help for people leaving Syria, many people are missing out because they don’t know how to get help.

Not everyone wants to live in the big refugee camps in Jordan because, even though they’re well organised and have schools and health services, they’re cold, noisy and sometimes scary places.

Thousands of people live in rows of tents, organised into a system of ‘streets’ like a proper town. But those tents flood when it rains, and of course, there’s no way to lock the door properly.

So some people leave the camp after a few days and take their families to find somewhere else to live.

They go to towns and sometimes they can rent a room from a host family, or join with other families to try to scrape together enough money to pay rent on a flat.

If they’re lucky, they’ll have a proper contract with their landlord.

But many don’t, and then they don’t know what their rights are if they miss a month’s rent or the landlord wants to put the rent up.

So they move on, and it’s even harder to find them to make sure they’re getting help.

They don’t always know how to register with the UNHCR, or their changes of address make it difficult to register. Some people don’t have enough money to make the journey to the UNHCR office to register, which is why the UN are opening more offices in different places, but still many people don’t manage to make the journey.

That’s why the figure of a million, released last week by the UN, isn’t the full story.

There are a million people who have registered or are going through the registration process, but there are also thousands more who haven’t yet started the process.

So, when I was in Jordan, I spent some time with aid workers who walk around towns knocking on every door asking if there are Syrian people living there who need some help.

And in Lebanon, where there aren’t any recognised refugee camps, all the Syrian refugees are in towns or are in makeshift camps in fields.

There, the churches are often well-placed to help people who have arrived from Syria, because they are most likely to notice when new people move into town.

And, sometimes, the church members are the first to offer practical help to a Syrian family who have made the difficult journey across the border.

Because those journeys are extremely difficult.Everyone I met told me of having had possessions taken from them on the journey.

Children had their toys taken from them. Money, jewellery, prized possessions, all gone.

At some checkpoints, people even had blankets taken away, which is particularly callous because the nights are so cold that blankets are precious.

And I can’t find words to describe the agony in the voice of the woman who told me that her husband was held back at the checkpoint, while she was allowed to come through with her children.

That was a year ago, and she hasn’t seen him since.

She doesn’t know whether he’s dead or alive, but the reality for most people is that if you haven’t heard from your loved one for a couple of months you will probably never hear from them again.

So the needs are huge. As well as the practical needs of food, shelter, help with paying the rent, the emotional and psychological needs are great too.

I met lots of children who are struggling to come to terms with the huge upheaval they’ve gone through.

Mums told me of their children’s nightmares and sleepwalking. Some children are very clingy, or find it difficult to smile.

Many of them cry when they hear fireworks or a plane going overhead, because it reminds them of the shootings, bombs and shellings that had become part of their daily lives in Syria.

And most of them are not in school.

We need to make sure we help put a roof over people’s heads, get the children into school and some sort of safe healthy daily routine, and give people the emotional and therapeutic support they need.

Everyone told me they one day want to go home. They know that can’t happen for a long time, and many of them don’t have homes to go to because their houses have been destroyed.

But their longing for their homeland is all-consuming. And it means that they continue to wander from place to place while in exile, waiting for the day they can go home.

My prayer for them is that they will one day be able to go home and, before then, that they find a sense of belonging while they are outside Syria and can settle into a semblance of normality in the meantime.

That’s what those children need, and that’s what we pray for.

You’re welcome to pray with us and to give what you can.

© Katie Harrison is head of Media and Corporate Communications at Tearfund. She has recently been part of a Tearfund team visiting Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebabon.

Keywords:UNHCR | Tearfund | Syria | refugees
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