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On the outskirts of Beirut, you will find an abandoned mall. What was once a beautiful storefront now has Catholic images hanging in the windows. Christian refugees are living in what was a clothing store not long ago. Due to the seriousness of the economic depression in Lebanon, Christian refugees have faced severe inflation that has severely changed how they live. A video documenting the refugees and their living conditions has been produced by “A Demand for Action,” an NGO based in Sweden providing aid for minorities in the Middle East.
In the video, a man who now lives in one of the former stores tells the camera, “I came from Iraq in 2017 when ISIS invaded Iraq.” He continued, “We suffered from persecution against Christians, from terrorism, and kidnapping perpetrated by the militias, as well as the rape of Christian girls, or any girl who did not wear a veil or was wearing a cross. I was overwhelmed by fear and the great threat to my family and children, so I was forced to flee to Lebanon.”
The man showed the person recording the video the room he was living in. There were few windows in the room, and the walls were bare other than a few holy cards with images of the Virgin Mary. Paint can be seen peeling from the walls and ceiling.
“The place where I live now was previously a clothing store. There were no bathrooms or kitchen before. We tried as much as possible to make some modifications to be able to live in this shop.”
One of the other refugees explained, “Because of the economic crisis and the difficult conditions that Lebanon suffers from, we as refugees were forced to live in these shops because of high rents of regular homes.”
Part of the Problem
The currency in Lebanon has collapsed this year. By June of 2021, the pound in Lebanon had lost over 85% of its value from October of 2019. Lebanon’s current financial situation was described by The World Bank as among the “most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century.”
The World Bank has estimated the real GDP in Lebanon contracted by more than 20 percent this year, along with high unemployment, surging inflation, and over 50 percent of the population living below Lebanon’s poverty line. According to the United Nations, per capita, the country also has the highest number of refugees globally. Lebanon has taken in over one million Syrians, almost half of which are not registered with legal status.
The founder of “A Demand for Action,” Nuri Kino, describes Lebanon’s economic situation as “severe.” Kino wrote on July 8, “The average salary in Lebanon was about $500 just two years ago. Today, those who earned that much are forced to accept $50 a month in salary. Meanwhile, food and gas prices have gone up, not down. The situation is unsustainable, and refugees from the surrounding countries are among the most vulnerable.”
The leaders in Lebanon have failed to form a government implementing reforms following the explosion that happened last August in Beirut’s port. Almost 200 people were killed in the explosion, with 600 others being seriously injured. In addition, the blast created over $4 billion in damages.
Following the explosion, Hassan Diab resigned as prime minister. During a speech he gave to ambassadors on July 7, Diab said, “Lebanon is a few days away from a social explosion. The Lebanese are facing this dark fate alone.”
Pope Francis has Hope for Lebanon
A day of prayer for Lebanon was hosted by Pope Francis on July 1, bringing Orthodox and Catholic leaders to the Vatican, where they discussed the crisis Lebanon is facing. Francis told reporters and officials alike, “We assembled today to pray and reflect, impelled by our deep concern for Lebanon, a country very close to my heart and which I wish to visit as we see it plunged into a serious crisis.”
The pope continued, “In these woeful times, we want to affirm with all our strength that Lebanon is, and must remain, a project of peace. Its vocation is to be a land of tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of fraternity where different communities live together, putting the common good before their individual interests.”
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It was confirmed on July 7 by the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States that Pope Francis has “made a commitment to visit Lebanon.”
Archbishop Paul Gallagher said, “He has also said that he will visit Lebanon when there is a government. So that’s a great stimulus to form a government. We’re trying to take small steps, move forward, see what the reaction is. But we are appealing at the same time to the international community to do everything in its power to help Lebanon at this critical time.”
Jeffrey‘s a senior writer with ThinkCivics and a freelance journalist with The Jerusalem Post. He’s a published author, earned an associate’s degree in theology, and is pursuing a master’s degree in communications with a focus on journalism.