Listen to their stories.
Scattered throughout the country, people are settling wherever they can. They often are living among Lebanese families, many of them poor themselves, and are at the mercy of local municipalities to welcome them into their communities. With rents very high, families cram as many people as possible into small spaces. They build tents out of found materials and donated plastic and turn dilapidated buildings into makeshift shelters. Even those who were not poor in Syria now find that the money that would buy them food for a week back home barely lasts a day in more expensive Lebanon.
Here are just a few among the hundreds of thousands across Lebanon.
Boys stand out of a tent settlement of 35 Syrian families in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley A defining element of the situation for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is that there are no official refugee camps. Unlike, Jordan and Turkey, the Lebanese government is reluctant to build them for various reasons. The result is hundreds of thousands of displaced people scattered and living wherever they can.
“My children never used to get sick. Now they are sick all the time.” Diabe fled from Homs with her husband and two children after their house was destroyed by rocket fire. After bribing regime soldiers to let them cross the border, they arrived in Tripoli nine months ago. They are living with three other families in one apartment. Her husband is the only one of them all that has been able to find work but almost all of that goes towards their rent. With little money left over for food she hasn’t been able to feed her children properly, she says, so they are often sick. This was the third time this month she had brought her son Jameel into a makeshift clinic to be treated for dehydration and diarrhea.
“We weren’t poor in Syria, but 10 dollars there used to last us an entire week. Here it would barely get me through a day.” Mohammad, Palestinian Syrian from Yarmouk camp. He used to be a painter.
Ahmad used to be a chef in Syria’s Yarmouk Palestinian camp. Now in Beirut the only work he can find is searching through the trash for cans and bottles that he can trade in for change.
“I came here needing help and I realized that the Palestinians in Lebanon need help as much as I do.” Nasser came from Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria located outside Damascus, where he had a nice house and a good job as a businessman. When the camp was bombed by Syrian fighter jets in December and gangs tried to kidnap him and his son, the two fled leaving his wife and other children behind to find work and a house for them in Lebanon. They spent their first month in Lebanon sleeping under a bridge and have had difficulty finding work or receiving assistance. Nasser has been shocked by the discrimination and conditions that Palestinians are subjected to in Lebanon compared to Syria (including being legally banned from many jobs and overcrowded camps). He is so frustrated and desperate that he has joined a small group of Palestinian Syrian men who have been camping out for the last several months on a highway in front of the Beirut office of UNWRA, the agency tasked with helping Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.
“I can feel the shrapnel in my chest and my nose when I breathe. It hurts.” 11 year old Ali arrived in lebanon just 14 days after being shot in the face. A sniper shot through the window of his father’s car in Daraa Syria where the protests began. The bullet went through his nose, his eye and out the right side of his head. When the fighting in the southern Syrian city intensified, his family had no choice but to take him out of the hospital prematurely and flee. Now they are living 20 family members in a windowless back room of an upholstery shop owned by a Syrian friend. Ali is now blind in one eye and still has fragments of shrapnel in his chest and face. He cannot attend school or be outside at length because of his injuries and his mother says she worries about him becoming increasingly isolated. He needs to have surgery to remove the rest of the shrapnel or it is likely he will lose his eyesight completely. But his family has not been able to find assistance to cover Ali’s needed care and they have even thought of moving out onto the street to to be able to save their rent money for the surgery.
“My greatest fear now is that at some point the Lebanese authorities will tell us we have to leave. Then where will we go?” Senna’s family has taken out debts to build a tent out of scrap wood, cardboard, and plastic in a settlement in the Bekaa Valley where some 35 syrian families are living. Each family in the settlement must pay 200 dollars a month to rent the land beneath their small tent. The Lebanese landlady is now threatening to raise the rent or else force them to leave if they cannot pay. Senna isn’t sure what will happen if they are forced to leave.
“We used to talk about how poorly the gypsies lived back in Syria. Now we are living worse than they were.” 29 year old Twasseef was pregnant with her third child when she and her husband fled Homs after their house was bombed eight months ago. Her son was born shortly after arriving in Lebanon and she spent the last months of her pregnancy sleeping on a bare floor of their hastily-made tent. There is hardly any work for her husband and they mostly rely on vouchers from UNHCR and aid organizations but that money has also diminished over time. Her neighbors in the small settlement are also young women from Homs (Noor and Senna, see previous photos) and they have found comfort in sharing their similar experiences with each other. Despite all the hardship, Tawasseef says it’s worth it for her children to be safe from the war.
“Of course I want to go back home but my house is in a pile of rubble, so where shall I live?” – Noor
“I don’t have any milk to give to my baby and I can’t afford to buy any.” -Ranis, 28, with children Bayan and Hamad
A mother from Aleppo, Syria waits with her daughter at a 24 hour makeshift clinic for refugees in northern Lebanon. There are now nearly half a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. See my other post with stories from some of the refugees I’ve met: http://bit.ly/11IMM7S