Plight of displaced Iraqis spurs Lebanese aid

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut
Lebanese carry bags of aid for displaced Iraqis at the Chaldean Diocese in Baabda. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Shorfa]

When young Lebanese mathematics teacher Dory Basset saw a large group of Iraqis registering for food rations cards at the Chaldean Diocese in Baabda, his heart went out to them.

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He took the list of required food items, disappeared and a short time later re-appeared carrying bags filled with food.

“When I saw these displaced families, I felt a huge pain and I wanted to help as much as I could,” Basset told Al-Shorfa. “I could not stand silent in the face of what is happening to them and it is all our duty to stand by them, each according to their means.”

Basset is one of thousands of Lebanese of all sects who have aided Iraqis displaced from their homes in northern Iraq by the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL).

“We were surprised at what happened to our brothers in Iraq and their escape to Lebanon,” said Chaldean Bishop Michel Qassarji. “All of a sudden, we woke up one day to a large number of them sleeping in the Diocese’s garden in Baabda so we set up an emergency room for them and launched a campaign for donations, which has been well received by Lebanese people from all sects and areas.”

Every day the Diocese hands out a near-complete food package and hundreds of bread packets to the displaced, without any sort of religious or ethnic discrimination, Qassarji said.

In the first phase of its campaign, the Diocese aided 500 families in Sad el-Bouchrieh.

There, it put its health centre and specialised clinics at the service of refugees to tend to families who had medical conditions requiring attention, said Bishop Qassarji.

The centre offers free medical examinations, check-ups and medicine, he said, and the Knights of Malta — a non-profit with medical and humanitarian activities — provided the Diocese with funds to follow up on certain medical conditions.

Bishop Qassarji transformed the first floor of the Diocese into a storage area for donated food and personal hygiene products, which volunteers distribute to families.

“There is a team of volunteers who visit the displaced people in order to assess their conditions and needs so we can supply provisions,” he said.
‘Healing wounds’

Other charities, churches and individuals have been aiding displaced Iraqis in Lebanon alongside the Chaldean Diocese.

Backed by a charity, Swiss national Lilly Kessler and her husband travelled to Lebanon in response to the appeal for aid, carrying with them funds to buy food for Iraqi refugees.

Meanwhile, the Chaldean Charity Association welcomes volunteers every day to help them distribute donated food and clothing, said association treasurer Fabienne Hakim.

“There are those who also donate money and so we have opened a bank account for money, which is spent on fees for hospitals and emergency cases, rent payments and school fees for children,” she told Al-Shorfa.

Hakim said the campaign has received an unprecedented response, adding, “People we do not know are knocking on our door carrying in-kind and financial donations and what is truly touching is that they refuse to give us their names since what they are doing is of a humanitarian nature.”

Rev. George Youkhana of St. George Assyrian Church has received 60 families that fled Mosul, Qara Qosh and Bakhdida and says that the church relies on individual donations to help the displaced.

“Individual donations by people we do not know heal the wounds of [the displaced],” he said, urging local and international organisations to do the same.

Lebanese charity Basma (Smile), in collaboration with Saydet al-Jumhour School’s alumni association, launched a campaign titled “One Mosul” to collect donations that will be distributed to families.

“One Mosul” will sponsor 30 families from Mosul, said Roger Khoury, the association’s secretary-general.

“We are currently collecting donations of money and basic food supplies as well as personal and home items,” he said. “We also provide medicine under the supervision of nurses and pharmacists and there are also psychiatrists, cardiologists, paediatricians and gynaecologists volunteering, as well as specialists in recreational activities for children.”