fra firas Libano

Lebanon: an unprecedented crisis

Giacomo Pizzi24 April 2020

The Lebanese situation in the words of Friar Firas Lutfi Minister of the San Paulo Region. Coronavirus and poverty.

“The Lord is risen, he is truly risen”, so Father Firas Lutfi greets his audience who attended a meeting organized by the Pro Terra Sancta Association on the situation in the Region of San Paulo (Syria, Lebanon and Jordan) of which he is Minister on behalf of the Custody of the Holy Land. After his experience in Syria, where he witnessed the decline of Aleppo and the nine years of war that have devastated the city and the population, he went to Lebanon. There, too, an unprecedented crisis is underway that is bringing the cedar country to its knees.

With great lucidity Father Firas, live from Beirut, explains the triggering factors of the crisis. The Syrian conflict has had serious repercussions not only on Syria, but throughout the Middle East, and on Lebanon in particular. The thin strip of land overlooking the Mediterranean is a small country of four million inhabitants to which a million and a half million Syrian refugees, who have abandoned their bombed-out houses, have poured into Lebanon in search of a safe haven. Due to internal problems, the country was unable to cope with the emergency. The lives of these people, already devastated by war, have not found peace, but poverty and uncertainty.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria is compounded by the presence of Hezbollah and the continuing conflict with Israel that has never been healed, a serious problem of corruption and an unstable political system in which 27 different religious denominations often in conflict with each other and fighting for power coexist. On 16 October 2019, young Lebanese people took to the streets demanding political reform of the country. “Skills must play a big role and not belonging”, the young people asked during the protests, as Firas told us. He explains that they were “peaceful and non-violent demonstrations that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Sad Hariri and the formation of a technocratic government”.

All this before the arrival of the invisible enemy, the Coronavirus, which is bringing the country further to its knees. There are about 700 cases ascertained to date and less than a dozen dead, but the closure of schools and all productive activities is causing irreparable damage to the population. 48% of the nation lives in poverty and if no aid is granted, in a couple of months, forecasts shift the threshold to more than 50%.

In this dramatic picture the first to suffer are the Syrian refugees. “I visited some Syrian families who escaped from Aleppo who live in Lebanon – says Firas – were waiting for an opportunity to escape abroad, with this situation everything is paralyzed”. He describes their state of mind and immense sadness. Families crushed by the war, who are once again being put to the test. “I try to revive hope by saying that all this nightmare will pass”, but the friar is also aware of this moment of fragility that the families are living.

There is a strong educational emergency: Syrian children from more than nine years of war have no possibility to go to school, most of them have clear effects of unprocessed traumatic events and being forced into the house, without being able to get out, becomes a prison.

The Franciscans are trying to give support to families and young people. They have started a project to give board and lodging to young people looking for work and residence. “As Franciscans we have remained close to our people, we have done it in Syria and we are doing it in Lebanon, as we have done over the centuries,” says Father Firas proudly, who hopes to be able to do in Lebanon what, thanks to the support of Pro Terra Sancta, represented the project of “Therapeutic Art” and “A name and a future” for the Syrian children of Aleppo.

“In Syria Pro Terra Sancta has given voice to those who did not have – continues Firas – and I am sure that with the support of all we will continue to do so”.