(Beirut) May 24, 2013 — Jesuit Refugee Service welcomed the call by Pope Francis for enhanced dialogue and cooperation between the diverse ethnic and religious communities which constitute Lebanese society. The statement, issued following a meeting between the Pope and the President of Lebanon Michel Suleiman in early May, echoes the focus of the work of JRS in this region since 2010.
The promotion of inter-religious and cultural dialogue forms the cornerstone of the work of JRS Middle East and North Africa. Volunteers and staff, predominately from Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, mirror the ethnic, religious and socio-economic diversity of the societies in which they are working.
"In light of the emergency response to the Syrian crisis, the need to overcome sectarian divisions is greater than ever. Our response to this immense human tragedy of Syria is not to exclude anybody. Our compassion reaches out to all in need of humanitarian assistance," said JRS International Director Fr Peter Balleis, S.J.
In Jbeil and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, two sheikhs, Ghassan Ellaqiss and Hamza Shoker, have publicly welcomed the work of JRS in their towns. Both religious leaders have granted JRS access to school facilities in order to provide educational services to Syrian refugee children through the Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP).
"This is a wonderful example of how the Syrian tragedy draws out the best in people of goodwill. In our conversations with the two Sheikhs it was very clear that we can work and live together as people of different creeds, just as people have done in Syria and Lebanon for centuries".
The Pope also called for increased humanitarian assistance from the international community for countries hosting Syrian refugees and for those still remaining inside Syria.
In Lebanon, JRS works in five different locations, providing emergency relief in the form of food support, hygiene kits, basic medical support, educational and psychosocial support to 1,000 Syrian families.
Currently there are 6.4 million Syrians in need of urgent humanitarian assistance both inside and outside of Syria. The UN refugee agency — UNHCR — has registered 455,000 Syrians in Lebanon, but the government estimates that approximately one million Syrian refugees are residing within Lebanon, accounting for 25 percent of the population.
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