Stéphane Vinhas is an Emergency Programs Officer at Development and Peace. In this interview, he provides an alarming portrait of the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the impact of the turmoil on the surrounding countries, especially Chad.
What’s been happening in the Central African Republic over the last few months?
The conflict in Syria has been ongoing for over three years now, and it has forced 2.8 million to flee the country. It is a shocking number that makes us take a moment to reflect on the sheer number of people who have abandoned their homes to escape the violence. Yet such a large number can make us lose sight that it represents 2.8 million individuals, each with a name and a story, each who had a home and a history that was all left behind with only bits and pieces carried away in a suitcase.
Pope Francis is currently on a pilgrimage in the Holy Land and has brought with him a message of peace. While travelling towards Jerusalem, he passed through Jordan, Palestine and Israel, and took the opportunity to highlight the work of the local Caritas offices in the region, which are helping victims of the conflict in the Middle East, mainly refugees.
On the first leg of his trip in Jordan, the Pope told dignitaries at the Royal Palace about the work of Caritas Jordan and how it is helping Syrian refugees who have been driven from their homes.
March 15th marks three years since Syria entered into a civil war that has had devastating impacts on the Syrian population and enormous repercussions on the entire region of the Middle East. This crisis shows few signs of abating, and the humanitarian needs continue to rise with each passing day that this crisis endures.
Laith Eskander is drinking his coffee. I am too. We need it! It must be only 10 C in the schoolyard of the Rome Catholic School in Amman, Jordan, where we are standing. Yet, the cold hasn’t stopped over 200 young adults from trickling into the yard to wait for their night classes to start. Most are Syrian, but there are also Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis, Sri Lankans, Indonesians and others, I’m sure. They have come to learn either English or computer programming. The teachers have similar origins, but there are also British and American volunteers.
When I arrived at the Caritas Centre in Irbid, Jordan, there was a queue of about a hundred people waiting to register. Most are Syrians who have fled the civil war in their country, but there are also Palestinians forced to evacuate their refugee camp in Syria’s capital Damascus due to bombings. Why are so many waiting in line?
Over 200,000 Syrians are fleeing their country each and every month to seek refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. We marked World Refugee Day just last week, and on that occasion Fr Simon Faddoul, President of Caritas Lebanon, a partner organization of Development and Peace, provided an alarming assessment of the plight of the Syrian refugees who are arriving in Lebanon daily in ever increasing numbers.
Last week, Development and Peace sponsored a series of premieres of the new Salt and Light documentary A New Leaf, which features the response of Development and Peace to the food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa, in five Canadian cities across the country.
This summer, I travelled to Niger and Mali to report on the food crisis that was gripping the Sahel region of West Africa, as well as the impact that political instability in Mali was having on the population. Accompanying me for the Niger part, was a crew from Salt and Light Television, who we had invited to come to document how the population was coping and our response. Together, we visited villages where the threat of hunger was a daily struggle. We also visited a refugee camp for Malians fleeing the violence in their own country. We could see the despondency of the people in the camp, having been completely uprooted from their homes and without any real idea as to when they would be able to return, if ever. It was a journey of discovery for all of us, and I was anxious to see how this story would be told in the documentary.