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Northwest relief teams 'overwhelmed' by Syrian refugees

In this Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013 photo, smoke rises due to an air strike that hit a village turned into a battlefield between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Idlib province, northern, Syria. It's estimated that 2,000,000 Syrian refugees have migrated to Lebanon and other border nations with another four-and-a-half million people displaced within Syria. As many as 1,000,000 children are among the refugees fleeing the civil war. (AP Photo)

Volunteers from the Pacific Northwest are joining what one relief worker calls the world's largest, complex humanitarian emergency.

It's estimated that 2,000,000 Syrian refugees have migrated to Lebanon and other border nations with another four-and-a-half million people displaced within Syria. As many as 1,000,000 children are among the refugees fleeing the civil war.

"The numbers of refugees fleeing into neighboring countries around Syria have just swollen to unimaginable proportions," said Joe DiCarlo, director of Emergency Relief for Portland-based Medical Teams International.

DiCarlo was among the first volunteers deployed to Lebanon last March to provide health and hygiene in border refugee camps.

"It's one thing to hear those statistics but it's another thing to sit in a makeshift tent across the border in Lebanon and meet with a family, in a two-room tent where two families will be living and to hear their stories and you see their children and the questions that they have and the fear in their eyes and you see the uncertainty and fear in the eyes of a father."

Since March, relief workers with Medical Teams International have established emergency medical clinics to serve 32 make-shift camps in Lebanon, where 740,000 Syrians have taken refuge.

"We want to make sure that the children receive their immunizations to stay healthy, that the mothers know how to treat the diarrhea disease, that they receive hygiene training," said DiCarlo.

Chemical weapons attacks in August put the Syrian civil war in the news but DiCarlo says he's not seen any refugees crossing into Lebanon with injury or illness from chemicals.

In a recent conference call, DiCarlo said relief agencies agreed they must take a long view of humanitarian efforts in and around Syria.

"This is not going to be a quick fix," said DiCarlo. "Even if President Assad left power now, there still will be people living outside their home country."

As if conditions are not difficult enough in Lebanon, DeCarlo is leaving soon to continue humanitarian effort in another Syrian border nation, Iraq.

About the Author


Tim Haeck is a news reporter with KIRO Radio. While Tim is one of our go-to, no-nonsense reporters, he also has a sensationally dry sense of humor and it will surprise some to learn he is a weekend warrior.

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