BEIRUT (CNS) — Representatives of 26 humanitarian agencies gathered in Beirut to discuss and coordinate efforts to address the increasing Syrian refugee crisis.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, who visited with Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, presided over the Nov. 9 meeting.
During the cardinal's Nov. 6-10 visit, he also met with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and participated in the monthly meeting of the council of Maronite Catholic bishops in Bkerke.
At the meeting sponsored by Caritas, the church's charitable agency, the humanitarian organizations agreed to carry out social work for the vulnerable populations inside and outside of Syria, to help alleviate their suffering, including providing medical and spiritual assistance as well as helping them to find shelter and prepare for the winter.
The groups also agreed to institute an efficient coordination system among the Catholic humanitarian organizations to unify their approach on the field.
They also stressed the importance of efforts to allow refugee children to continue their education and to recover some kind of routine in their daily lives.
Pope Benedict XVI had hoped to send a delegation of three cardinals, three bishops and a priest to Syria during the world Synod of Bishops, which met for three weeks at the Vatican in October, to show solidarity with victims and encourage peace negotiations. The papal delegation to Damascus was to have included Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the board of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Pope Benedict announced Nov. 7 that he would send Cardinal Sarah to Lebanon to deliver a $1 million donation and boost the church's humanitarian response to the crisis.
Syria's civil war has left thousands dead and has displaced hundreds of thousands of people since March 2011.
The U.N. refugee agency said Nov. 9 that a record number of Syrian refuges had crossed into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, setting a record for a 24-hour period.
The majority — reportedly 9,000 Syrians — had crossed into Turkey's Urfa province during the night Nov. 8, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The remaining 2,000 Syrians were registered and assisted by UNHCR in Jordan and Lebanon, the agency said.
Those arrivals bring the number of Syrian refugees in the region to 408,000, the UNHCR said, but the numbers are actually greater because not all of the displaced Syrians entering the countries are registering with the agency.
It said about 115,000 Syrian refugees live in Lebanon. It said approximately 1,000 entering the country daily, including migrant workers who go back and forth between Lebanon and Syria.