A blizzard hit parts of the Middle East yesterday. Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan furiously shoveled snow off their makeshift tent shelters as the region was pummeled with severe winds, icy rain, hail, and snow. Others sought warmth at emergency shelters set up by UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
I was visiting Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, just a few kilometers away from the Syrian border, as the storm rolled in. The visit was cut short as everyone scrambled to stock up on food and take shelter. Zaatari is a desolate camp in the middle of the Jordanian desert. Everything, including water, is trucked in. 84,700 Syrian refugees live in Zaatari in temporary shelters; nearly one-third of these refugees are children.
The scale of the Syrian conflict is monumental. It is now one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history. There are more than 3 million refugees. Over half of them are children under 17. Many of these children, like 13 year-old Abdullah, a Syrian refugee in Jordan who sells stale bread, work throughout the day to support their family.
Countries around Syria are becoming overwhelmed by the number of refugees. On January 5th, Lebanon began imposing tough visa restrictions for new Syrian refugees. A country of 4.4 million, Syrian refugees now make up one-fourth of Lebanon’s population.
With still no end in sight, more families will be displaced by the Syrian conflict throughout 2015. All people deserve a home and the opportunity to rebuild their lives without fear. As people of faith, and as Americans, we must welcome and walk alongside those who seek safety.