The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Sheltering Syrian refugees in Lebanon

New Zealander Andrew Robinson reports below on shelter distribution to Syrian refugee families living in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. At the time, Andrew was working for Medair which partnered with Caritas Lebanon to provide emergency shelters in the region.

It was early winter at this stage, and there had already been a lot of rain in the Bekaa Valley, in addition to near-zero temperatures at night. The families we were targeting were living in simple self-made shelters, constructed out of old plastic, burlap sack, and old, tattered vinyl billboard signs. While well constructed, the materials offered minimal protection from the wind, the rain, and the cold conditions.

In the weeks leading up to this distribution, Caritas and Medair staff had driven through the Bekaa Valley, identifying the most vulnerable families to assist. Informal settlements of refugees were haphazardly scattered among the farms, orchards and vineyards of the Bekaa Valley. They ranged from settlements of over 100 families, to one or two self-made shelters. Refugees were living as squatters on roadsides or unused tracks of land, or having to rent land from local farmers to build their shelters. No other agencies were working with these families, and it was a time-consuming process to locate and assess them. We were greatly aided in this task by a terrific local Caritas worker who had grown up in the Bekaa, and who had a natural talent for community mobilisation and relationship building. While this was going on, logistics staff were busy sourcing wood and vinyl and making up shelter kits in preparation.

This first distribution took place at a large informal settlement of over 100 families. Wonderfully, it went off without a hitch! We had two truckloads of materials to distribute. Syrian families gathered around the truck and waited patiently as we called a representative from each household forward, and had them sign for their materials. We provided each household with a kit of vinyl that could completely cover an average size makeshift shelter. The wood we provided was to help attach the vinyl to the existing structure. (The Lebanon Government did not permit formal refugee camps, so we could only provide materials that could be added to an existing structure. We couldn't provide wood to be used to build a frame of a shelter.) Caritas had recruited local University students - a mix of Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians - to help with the distribution: they did a fantastic job! 

One thousand refugee families benefited from shelter-kits that Medair and Caritas distributed. The feedback we have received from this project was fantastic. The thick vinyl we provided was exactly what refugees had wanted but had been too expensive for them to afford themselves. I was part of the post-project assessment, and most families remarked how the vinyl had not only made their shelters water-proof, but had also insulated the shelter, keeping the family inside warm and dry. We were thrilled to hear this. 

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