Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (I): No Relief in Bekaa
By: Usama al-Qadiri
Published Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Syrians have fled from the crisis in their country to the nearby Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon, where they are living in difficult conditions with little or no assistance from the state.
Many Syrian families from Damascus, Homs, and Idlib have taken refuge in the Bekaa Valley with Lebanese hosts, who are waiting for the Lebanese state to take responsibility for the Syrian refugees.
As for the refugees themselves, their troubles are exacerbated by neglect on the part of the Lebanese government and by fears that the Syrian crisis will continue for a long time to come.
The refugees are dispersed across several villages in the western and central Bekaa making it difficult to accurately gage their numbers.
More than 400 families have registered with non-governmental organizations but hundreds more refused to do so out of fear that the information would find its way to Syrian or Lebanese security forces.
Our search for refugee families began on the outskirts of the central Bekaa city of Zahle where a Syrian family from the suburbs of Homs lives in a half-finished house.
“We escaped with nothing but the clothes on our back,” says the main guardian of a family of ten, the youngest of whom is a one-year-old infant.
The living conditions are harsh. The only warmth is provided by a small brick fireplace. Rags hang in the doorway, and the only piece of furniture is an old worn sofa. The walls are blackened and disfigured by humidity.
Hamiya Abu Mohammad and his wife tell a miserable story of “the pain of displacement” and the extreme difficulties they faced back home trying to protect their children from bullets and starvation, especially after it became next to impossible to find a loaf of bread in Homs.
“Escaping is very difficult,” Abu Mohammad says. “Before you cross a checkpoint, you have to figure out who controls it. One small mistake can be fatal. If the checkpoint is pro-government and you thought it was loyal to the opposition, you’re done for. Similarly, if you mistook an opposition checkpoint for a government one, you’re done for as well.”
He never expected the Lebanese state to neglect its responsibilities towards anyone seeking refuge on Lebanese soil. “Isn’t it shameful that humanity must bend to politics?” he says.
Abu Mohammad’s plight is slightly better than the state of many other refugees, who have taken shelter at farms, raising cows and chickens in the Bekaa valley.
Others flooded apartments and houses in the towns of Chtaura, Taalabaya, Saadnayel, Bar Elias, al-Marj, and Sawiri.
The refugees live on what their Lebanese hosts provide, especially since work opportunities are extremely limited in the Bekaa at this time of year, with the farming season still at its very beginning.
Abu Gaith and his family, who are refugees from Idlib, live on a cattle farm in the plains of Kab Elias. A corrugated tin roof keeps out the rain. It is all they have to protect them from the elements. Gaith’s wife places containers around the house to catch the water dripping from the many holes in the roof.
“It’s shameful that the Lebanese government treats refugees in this degrading manner,” she says.
She exposes the wounded leg of her daughter, who appears to be about 10 years old. “What did these children do to be wounded and murdered?” she asks.
For his part, Gaith expressed gratitude to the owner of the farm for providing shelter, food, and drink.
NGOs active in the area have limited resources but they do try to help the refugees.
A member of the Coalition of Bekaa Charities for Aiding Displaced Syrians, Doctor Abdullah al-Tassi, says that the work of his group is purely humanitarian, yet it is incapable of providing basic and medical supplies for all the refugees.
“We met with the representatives of the western and central Bekaa regions asking them to urge the government to order the High Commission for Relief to do its humane duty towards these displaced people, regardless of their political inclinations,” al-Tassi explains.
“This task cannot be fulfilled by civil organizations alone. The government with its ministries and specialized commissions has to do its part, especially since there are some who need medicine for chronic illnesses – something the organizations cannot provide. In most cases, we end up taking money from well-to-do people or from our personal accounts to buy medicine for these refugees,” he adds.
As for the number of refugees in the Bekaa, al-Tassi says about 3,000 people have registered with the coalition. “This does not include the displaced families that simply refused to give us their complete personal records for security reasons,” he explains.
Al-Tassi fears a sudden increase in the number of refugees in the Bekaa would “be a disaster for those living here and for the refugees themselves, especially if the government fails to handle the situation.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.