Displaced Christians in the Middle East
The current conflict in Lebanon has caused almost a quarter of the Lebanese
population to relocate, some within their own country, others to Syria and
Jordan. The Lebanese refugees are in addition to hundreds of thousands of
displaced people, who have already fled other arenas of conflict in the Middle
East. This communiqué focuses on Christians displaced in Lebanon,
Jordan, Iraq and the West Bank, estimated to number between 550,000 and 750,000.
Approximate figures for the number of Christian refugees are as follows,
beginning with those displaced by the conflict in Lebanon which began on
* Lebanese Christians who have fled to other parts of Lebanon - 50,000
* Lebanese Christians who have fled to Syria - 33,000
* Lebanese Christians who have fled to Jordan - 30,000
Total Lebanese Christian refugees - 113,000
In addition there were an estimated 80,000 – 100,000 Filipino, Sri Lankan
other “third country nationals” working in south Lebanon, many of whom were
Christians. It is believed that most have left. Some Filipinos are known
have reached Syria, but the whereabouts of the majority is unknown.
In the last few weeks many Arab Israelis, including Christians, have fled
northern Israel to seek safety elsewhere. Hundreds have gone to the West
e.g. Bethlehem and Jericho. Others have moved via Jordan to Syria. According
to an agreement made between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Syrian
government, up to 100,000 Palestinians will be allowed to move to Syria.
(According to some estimates, 10% of the 1.4 million Arabs who live in Israel
are Christians, but it is expected that those who move to Syria will include
higher percentage of Christians.)
Large numbers of Iraqi Christians have fled their country since the Gulf
(1990-91). The war which deposed Saddam Hussein in 2003 led to another surge
Christians leaving, and the increasingly ferocious anti-Christian rhetoric
violence since then have ensured that the flow of Christians out of Iraq
Total of Iraqi Christians who have moved to Syria since 2003 - 190,000
The vast majority of these have arrived in the last year and settled as follows:
Aleppo area (mainly from Mosul) - 60,000
Damascus area (mainly from Baghdad) - 120,000
Iraqi Christians who have moved to Jordan since 1991 - 195,000.
Of these 45,000 have arrived in 2006.
The number of Iraqi Christians still in Iraq may now be little more than
200,000. This compares with an estimated 1,500,000 before 1990. Many of these
200,000 are themselves internally displaced, having fled to northern Iraq
Baghdad and other parts of the country.
Thus there must be between 550,000 and 750,000 displaced Christians in the
Middle East at present.
The needs of the refugees
The needs of the refugees vary from one location to another and are becoming
more acute as time passes. Most of the Lebanese Christians displaced within
Lebanon are at present staying with other Christian families in their homes.
But this situation will not be viable if the war continues long-term.
Jordan has begun to refuse entry to Iraqi men between the ages of 18 and
The latest refugees therefore are primarily women, children and older men.
Families without a man to protect them are very vulnerable in Middle Eastern
society, and the women have limited ways in which to try to support their
children and elderly dependents. Another new rule in Jordan forbids Iraqi
children from studying in the government schools. This means that they can
study in private schools, which are unaffordable for many refugees.
In Syria there is more need among the Iraqi Christians in Damascus than amongst
those in Aleppo. But some Iraqi Christians have even begun to establish church
buildings, with permission from the Syrian government.
The third country nationals are probably the most vulnerable of all the refugees
from the Lebanon conflict. Filipinos, for example, do not expect any help
the Filipino government, nor from the Lebanese families who formerly employed
them as domestic servants. Many people have lost their documents in the
destruction and chaos of the current war. While Syria has allowed in thousands
of Lebanese without ID, it is refusing entry to Filipinos and other third
country nationals unless they are carrying valid ID documents. Three Ethiopian
women somehow made their way from Lebanon to Cyprus. Two were allowed in
because they had onward air tickets, but the third was deported back to Lebanon;
Cypriot officials failed to inform her that she could have applied for political
asylum on the basis that she had come from war-torn Lebanon.
Many of the refugees are in need of life’s most basic requirements: shelter,
food and clothing. Some also have specific medical needs, either war injuries
or ongoing medical conditions needing treatment. (Many Iraqi refugees in
Jordan and Syria have cancer.) Some need trauma counselling, especially
children who have seen the bombing in Lebanon and now cannot sleep.
My warm regards!
"To do Justice is more acceptable to God than sacrifice" (Prov 21:3)
The Golden Rule commands us to Love & take risks for everybody; so the
worst risk is risking nothing for nobody!