Lebanon: The struggle to survive after escaping Syria
Johanna Rogers from Christian Aid shares her experiences following a visit to Lebanon last week
In Lebanon, the despair of refugees forced by conflict to flee their homes in neighbouring Syria is all-consuming. They have found shelter wherever they can – in makeshift camps beside rubbish dumps or bedding down in disused factories – but yearn for the lives they have been forced to abandon. With accommodation in many cases precarious at best, no employment and no schooling for their children – these are desperate times.
I’ve met many since my arrival four days ago – their communities across the border now battle zones, their present situation hopeless. And still they come.
Lebanon is now home to more Syrian refugees than any other country in the region. The official figure is 265,000 but unofficially there are thought to be more than twice that number. The numbers are overwhelming for a country with a population of just 4,500,000.
Many people told me the waiting list to register with the UNHCR – essential to get food vouchers – gets longer by the day. At present it stands at three months, they said. Families on arrival receive small handouts of food and money but once that is gone they are left to fend for themselves.
The few jobs once available to Syrians in Lebanon are long gone, while food is more expensive than at home and landlords charge as much as £130 a month for a rented room, which often houses up to 20 people. In the farming area of Jeb Jannine in the Beqa’a valley, against a backdrop of snow covered mountains, numerous small encampments have sprung up – unofficial homes to many of the new arrivals.
Crammed into a small two-room tent with her seven children, I found Samira, 31, who was forced to flee her hometown Hama while eight months pregnant, following ten days of bombardment. Joining her in the small shelter, a sturdy structure tied together with rope and wrapped with tarpaulin, she told me she had never left her homeland before, but knew she had to flee for the sake of her young family – her youngest born just days before my arrival. It took Samira and her children 12 hours to reach the camp by bus. All she had with her were her documents, the clothes on her back, and some jewellery she has since sold to pay for food and water. A kind neighbour donated the diesel stove she uses.
The two nutritionists with me are from Christian Aid partner International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). IOCC has provided Samira’s antenatal care as part of their invaluable support of vulnerable refugee mothers. The nutritionists examine the baby, Ahmed, now 25-days-old. He is underweight. Samira fears for him and the other children. Mounds of rubbish line the makeshift camp’s perimeter, while sanitation is minimal and primitive; there are no toilets and shallow gullies dug in the earth serve as drainage ditches. Flooding has already been a problem.
Nearby, Mohammed, 33, and his family arrived six months ago. Prior to that, they had spent nearly four months trapped and terrified in their house in Homs, eating dried food, rice and home-baked bread to avoid having to venture outside. Only in emergencies would they leave, creeping along a wall to avoid sniper fire. Eventually, they fled to Lebanon on a packed bus; there was no room for any of their belongings.
Mohammed gets food vouchers from the UNHCR but they are not enough. Bread is five times more expensive than it was at home, and he and families nearby now pool the supplies they get, generally rice, Bulgur wheat and bread. Water and electricity are added expenses. But there is no way back he told me, Homs is gone.
At Bedawi, a Palestinian camp near the northern border, new arrival Kamal, 32, described how he and his family in December were forced to flee months of violence in Yamouk, one of the largest Palestinian camps in Syria. At first, they found shelter in a mosque in Damascus where they were able to stay at night but eventually crossed the border where home now is a four-room apartment sleeping 23 each night – many of them ill from overcrowding and malnourishment. Approximately 60,000 people now live in the camp – 6,000 of them Palestinians from Syria who have arrived in the past year, with as many as 2,000 estimated to arrive in the coming weeks.
In the camp, Christian Aid partner Association Najdeh has provided mattresses and blankets as well as food baskets containing rice, beans, sugar, hummus, cheese and tomatoes, as well as education and support for children. The UN and organisations such as these are making valiant attempts to make a difference, but the odds are overwhelming. Christian Aid’s Syria and Middle East crisis appeal will help those most in need, working through partners to provide food, medical assistance and other essential services.Assad, Homs, lebanon, refugees, syria
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