Lebanon News

Dutch princess, celebrity visit refugees

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and Dutch celebrity Jaan Smit pose for a photo with Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, Sunday, June 11, 2017. (Photo by Michel Kooreman)

KHINSHARA-JUWAR, Lebanon: Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and Dutch celebrity singer and TV host Jan Smit concluded a two-day trip to Lebanon Monday to visit the SOS Children’s Village facilities in Bekaa Valley and the Metn region. SOS Children’s Village is an international organization providing housing and support for vulnerable children and orphans. The princess visited as the patroness of SOS Children’s Village in the Netherlands. Smit has been an ambassador of the NGO since 1999.

On arriving in Lebanon Sunday, the pair headed to the NGO’s emergency Care Space in Metn’s Khinshara village where they met with children and toured the facilities.

Sitting in a classroom with several children, including 4-year-old Jad who spent his time in company of royalty drawing, the Dutch visitors were briefed on the refugee situation in Lebanon.

Amal Rouhana, director of the Khinshara center, explained that the majority of children the NGO hosts were Syrian refugees who had been traumatized by the war and the dire living situation they face in Lebanon.

After the princess asked whether they received children affected by Daesh (ISIS), the director answered that they were hosting one 11-year-old child who had seen his parents murdered by militants from the extremist group.

“What are you in most need of in order to support these children, besides the most obvious, being money?” Princess Margriet asked.

Rouhana paused before answering that money was truly the only helpful form of aid to tend to low resources and overcrowded facilities.

According to Afifa Arsanios, president of SOS Lebanon, governmental financial support for the organization is relatively low.

“The government funds us with LL5,000 ($3.33) a day per child,” she said, clarifying that the amount did not apply to children living in SOS’ emergency center.

The location of the Dutch pair’s visit Sunday was somewhat unusual, given the center’s affluent surrounding area. The quaint red roof tiles and crawling jasmine plants on Khinshara’s stone buildings were worlds away from the scenery of the heavily affected eastern Bekaa Valley and northern Akkar region.

“Originally, this building was used as a summer house for children in our facilities. They would come and visit in the warmer months,” Rouhana told The Daily Star, commenting on the beautiful surroundings. “At the onset of the Syrian crisis, our facilities filled quickly and we had to convert this into an emergency center,” she added.

Children taken into the Khinshara facility are emergency arrivals, for whom organizations such as the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR are unable to find immediate housing.

United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag, also a Dutch national, was present during Sunday’s tour.

“This is important humanitarian child protection work,” Kaag told The Daily Star during the tour.

“Sadly, the inflow of children is not ending, indicating the scope of need and of course the responsibility of all of us to do more. SOS takes on a leading role ... I’m honored to be here as a visitor,” she said.

Princess Margriet and Smit headed out Monday to visit informal settlements in the Bekaa Valley to meet with families participating in SOS’ family support program, which aims to assist struggling parents to take care of their children.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 13, 2017, on page 3.




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