Chris ClarkeThis was an address by Chris Clarke, CEO of World Vision New Zealand.  This originally took place on the 14th of May in Dunedin.

There are twelve million displaced from Syria, six million of them are children, 2.8 million of them are no longer going to school.  No one ever expects the conflict to reach as far as their village.  Then in the early hours of the morning the bombs fall over their village.  Apparently Assad’s regime favours barrel bombs full of incendiaries, stocked up from American suppliers, targeting schools and markets to cause fear and injury.  To save families senior members encourage younger generations to flee and take the children with them, abandoning the obligation to an older generation less able to escape.

Jordan and Lebanon have kept their borders open to refugees.  Lebanon has closed theirs now.  A third of the population in Lebanon is refugee.  With a permanent Palestinian refugee population Lebanon does not want to absorb a second refugee population.  They expect them to go home and no permanent services will be provided for them.  Refugee camps mushroom on any vacant land and they are expected to supply rent to landlords.

These are people who still want to show hospitality.  Aid workers are greeted with coffee, even if it has to be begged or burrowed from somewhere else.  Aid workers need a strong bladder to cope with this hospitality to strangers.  There is no happy ending for these people.  Silence accompanies their poverty.  They need to tell their own stories.  They need to regain their emotional health.  Children can play, women will focus on the day, men are left sitting around – they cannot be successful men, the protectors and providers for their families, they are humiliated.

These are vulnerable children.  There are few child-friendly spaces for them.  They are forgetting the songs of their childhood.  There are 1200 different factions in the Middle East, so many blurred boundaries.  How do we avoid creating a generation of angy fighters?  Where is the hope, and the aspiration?  The hope of the Middle East lies in its communities.  It is up to us to respond with compassion to injustice.  Make a difference.

The National-led government of New Zealand argues that joining the coalition of the willing this time will be a Just War choice.  This is what they are up against.  Aid agencies challenge the government to prepare for a Just Peace – for every dollar spent on war spend a dollar on peace.

We were shown this video during the presentation.  Adel with his mother and sisters fled to Lebanon and were in a camp during Clarke’s visit.  Adel is the man of the family now.  If I passed such children on the street, would I notice them? They could easily be refugees who could fit into New Zealand, not noticed as different among our population.  Instead one night they slipped out of the camp and returned to an uncertain future in Syria.  They could not afford to remain in the camp.