Lingering Syrian refugee crisis affects Good Shepherd Sisters

The following article about the Syrian refugee crisis is extracted from a story that appeared in the National Catholic Register on January 30, 2018.

As Lebanon enters its seventh year of hosting Syrian refugees, it is slipping further into an economic and social crisis. Lebanon has absorbed 1.5 million registered refugees from neighboring Syria, which is more than 25% of the total local population of Lebanon.

Refugees live in tented settlements in some area, but for the most part Syrian refugees are scattered across Lebanon, straining its already frail and inadequate infrastructure. In many towns and villages, Lebanese find themselves a minority.
The presence of the Syrian refugees, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslim, also alters the sectarian balance of Lebanon, a country whose existing population is about 40% Christian.

Yet, refugees are still streaming into Lebanon, tensions are growing and bombs continue to fall in Syria. Meanwhile, international aid in response to the Syrian refugee crisis is diminishing.

As interest in the crisis wanes, more Lebanese slip into poverty. More than 28% of the local Lebanese population now live below the poverty line.

Maronite Father Karam, president of Caritas Lebanon, said, The network of Caritas and our donors will help for one or two years, three years, five years maybe, but they can’t continue to help for eternity.”

Syrian refugee crisis and Good Shepherd

In the Jdeideh section of Beirut, the Good Shepherd Sisters have a ministry of mercy. The medical dispensary they run is constructed from four corrugated shipping containers. The dispensary functions as a primary health care center that serves Syrian and Iraqi refugees, as well as Lebanon’s poor.
The dispensary is affiliated with the faculty of medicine at St. Joseph University in Beirut and includes a team of 30 rotating doctors.

“Whether Syrian, Iraqi or Lebanese, Christian or Muslim, the person, the suffering, all are equal,” said Good Shepherd Sister Antoinette Assaf, director of the dispensary.

“It’s about giving them some hope. It’s about tender love,” Sr. Antoinette said.
The dispensary, like the country of Lebanon, is facing a decrease in international aid.

For example, a European embassy that has helped to support the clinic for the last three years has told the Good Shepherd Sisters that this is its final year as a donor. The embassy’s focus is on emergencies.

The war is not over in Syria. There are three Good Shepherd Sisters and about 100 lay staff dodging bombs while serving the people in Damascus.

Sr. Antoinette said, “We would like Christians in the West to know more about our reality, to keep supporting us, to pray for us. I believe prayers are so powerful, to help in every way.”

Father Karam said, “The crisis must be addressed by encouraging a peace process in Syria.”

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website