Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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September 18, 2013

South Bend relief agency helping Syrian refugees

Group helps 500 refugees with meals and hygiene kits.

SOUTH BEND — Local relief agencies are sending aid to Syrian refugees who are being rushed into the cities of Lebanon, left to scramble for shelter in abandoned houses or wherever they can find a room. Some sleep in the parks.

Jean-Pierre Rumens recently came back from an 11-day visit to Lebanon and described single rooms that are damp, moldy and without windows, renting for $300 to $400 per month.

“It’s really terrible,” Rumens said via Skype to his fellow staff at LeSea Global Feed the Hungry’s headquarters in South Bend from his office in Germany.

The Syrian refugee crisis has been going on since a civil war there began two years ago, but the people’s plight has caught new attention since last month’s chemical attack that left hundreds dead and since the debate over U.S. military intervention.

Feed the Hungry has been responding to Syrian refugees for several months, though fundraising pleas haven’t elicited a large response, director Stefan Radelich told the South Bend Tribune.

It is now helping 500 to 600 refugees — a relatively small outreach for Feed the Hungry — through a Christian church in Lebanon that has cooked meals and provided hygiene kits, all bought in Lebanon.

Rumens spoke of one refugee whose baby was due in a few weeks who feared that she and her husband would be evicted since they couldn’t afford rent. She didn’t know where she’d deliver her baby. Her husband had landed a job as a painter but was making much less than his co-workers. Rumens’ translator offered to connect the mother with a Nigerian nurse from church.

Radelich said the refugees tend to be marginalized by Lebanese residents. Part of that is because Lebanon is an ally of Syria, and they feel the Syrians should be back home supporting President Bashar Assad and fighting the rebels. Many of the refugees, Radelich noted, are Assad supporters who fled because their homes were bombed or taken over.

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