From Beirut under lockdown, Alison Heron reports on the challenges of responding to COVID in Lebanon and Syria
The streets of Beirut are silent. I can have my doors and windows open all day and all night and I hear no noise. Life in this usually bustling city has come to a complete standstill.
The Lebanese are a very resilient people, they’ve been through so much. The Government here acted quickly, but of course there is a lot of fear right now because of the Coronavirus.
There is a big concern that the healthcare system won't be able to cope. There have been over 500 confirmed cases in Lebanon and 19 people have died. People are really worried.
For me, being away from Ireland right now is really hard. The airport is shut down and nobody knows when it’s going to open again. I worry that someone at home will get sick and I won't be able to get there. But I am thankful to have somewhere safe to stay and to be able to work from my home in Beirut.
A CRISIS ON TOP OF A CRISIS
Countries like Ireland and the UK are finding it hard to cope with the spread of this virus. Imagine putting nine years of conflict on top of that. For both Lebanon and Syria this is a crisis on top of a crisis.
There are over 1 million Syrian refugees living in camps in Lebanon. The camps are very tight and crowded. Entire families live in one tent. Social isolation and distancing is impossible. It just can’t happen.
The lockdown means that many people cannot work. Suddenly you fear not being able to get enough food to feed your family. You're not even thinking about the virus, just about being able to feed your family.
FACTS, NOT FEAR
What Trócaire is doing, with our partners in Lebanon and Syria, is trying to spread facts, not fear. We are raising awareness in the camps around COVID prevention. How to prevent the spread, how to wash hands.
In Lebanon we're also providing emergency vouchers to Syrian refugees. These are worth around €40 and can provide a lifeline for refugee families with no income.
Inside Syria, our partners are distributing food, soap and hygiene kits for displaced families, and we are ensuring frontline staff working with our partners have personal protective equipment. When they’re distributing these much-needed items, they need to be protected.
Basic items like soap doesn’t cost a lot of money but they’re going to make all the difference.
SUPPORTING MENTAL HEALTH
We’re also focusing on mental health needs. Obviously everyone is under a huge amount of pressure. People who are in better situations in the world are finding this really hard to deal with. Then imagine if you’re a refugee who has left everything behind. You’re already finding it hard to survive. Now suddenly you have this fear of the outbreak spreading on top of it. It’s incredibly difficult.
Our partners can't do face-to-face counselling anymore so we are supporting them to find ways to organise calls between counsellors and women refugees in the camps. This psycho-social care is so important.
COURAGEOUS FRONTLINE STAFF
It is incredibly inspiring to work with the local staff of our partner organisations. Like the healthcare workers back home, these are selfless people working on the frontlines to support the most vulnerable. They are putting aside their own worries to make sure refugees and displaced families are being supported.
The outbreak here is a few weeks behind Europe so we know it’s going to get worse. Seeing the courage and dedication of my colleagues in Trócaire and in our partner organisations is one of the things that helps me keep going.
Thanks to the generous support of the Irish people, we will respond where needed despite the challenges. We will continue to support the most vulnerable people in the world who are affected by this crisis. Trócaire will continue to provide hope even in the most difficult of times.
Alison Heron is Head of Programmes for Trócaire’s Syria Response
COVID-19 knows no borders and neither does your compassion. We know not everyone is in a position to support this work right now, but if you can, please consider supporting our Lent appeal. Your support means we can support communities affected by COVID-19 in places like Syria, Gaza and Somalia.
You can donate online or by phoning: 1850 408 408 (Republic of Ireland) 0800 912 1200 (Northern Ireland).