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Abu Feras* and his children and nieces live in the shelter in Naameh, Lebanon. Although their living conditions are far from ideal, he says that at least his children are safe here. His eldest son was killed in cross-fire in Syria, prompting him to bring the rest of his family to safety in Lebanon. (JRS/Don Doll)
Beirut, 12 July 2013 – The small town of Naameh, notorious for religious tensions and outbreaks of violence, seems an unlikely place for refugees to settle. Yet it has recently become home to 50 Syrian families (about 300 individuals) who are taking shelter in a derelict school.

Mohsin*, a Lebanese resident of Naameh says that he was moved by the sight of many Syrian families sleeping on the streets in and around the town, which is situated less than 20km south of Beirut along the coastal road.

"Women were also involved in unsafe activities, just to get some money to support their children", he said.

Difficult living conditions. Along with a friend, Mohsin petitioned the local municipality to open the abandoned school in Naameh to offer shelter to the Syrian families. He explained that it was not an easy task, but eventually the municipality agreed. Despite municipal approval, they receive frequent random visits from the police who tell them they are not permitted to have people living in the school.

The two-story school comprises basic bathroom facilities, laundry area and cooking amenities. Four big gas stoves are available and families take turns cooking throughout the day. There is roughly one family per classroom, but in some cases rooms are partitioned by a hanging blanket.

JRS began providing material assistance – food, clothing, small stoves and hygiene kits – in the shelter last January. However there is an urgent need to improve the living conditions in the shelter, provide regular electricity, medical care for chronic illnesses and ensure the more than 150 children living in the shelter receive educational support.

Losing a child. Abu Feras*, a man living in the shelter who had lost his 15 year-old son spoke of his personal ordeal. With his children seated around him, he explained the heartbreaking story of his eldest son's death as a result of crossfire, his funeral, and the fear pushed the family to flee Syria.

Overcome with emotion, tears flowed unchecked as he said his only wish for the future is to take his children back home, and to watch them grow up safely and in peace.

"The parents of Syrian families did the only thing they could to protect their children – they escaped the violence. It's up to us to now support them and secure their children's future through providing education", said Peter Balleis SJ, JRS International Director, whilst on a recent trip to Lebanon.

JRS Lebanon is rolling out an Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP) in areas where they work. The ALP is designed to help Syrian students learn French, English, Maths and other subjects, so that they can enter the Lebanese public school system in the new academic year.

The situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is dire. The number of refugees officially registered by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is more than 400,000, but the government estimates nearly one million Syrians are in the country.

JRS is working in five locations in Lebanon, offering support to Syrians in areas there no other NGOs operate. You can support the work of JRS in Lebanon here.

Zerene Haddad, Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer

*Names changed for security reasons