Images: L. Arango for Action Against Hunger, 2017
Syria Crisis: Voices from the Bekaa valley
Inside Lebanon’s refugee camps, Syrian men and women speak of their hopes and fears.
Apr 5 2017
In March 2017, the number of refugees fleeing Syria for neighbouring countries surpassed five million people as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis continues unabated. Countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq have buckled under the influx of civilians fleeing war-zones and the devastating humanitarian crisis currently gripping the region.
In Lebanon, the Bekaa valley is well-known for its archaeological ruins, vineyards and agricultural produce. In recent years, however, it has also become known for its people’s generous support of families fleeing the Syria crisis. Situated in the wide and fertile valley of north-eastern Lebanon, families living in one of the many refugee camps here have endured daily difficulties and uncertainty since the conflict ignited six years ago and conflict drove them from their homes.
The stories of these refugees stranded in Lebanon are a testimony to the devastating short-term and long-term impact the conflict has had on multiple generations of men, women and children from the shattered nation of Syria.
It has been almost six years ago since Mousa Ibrahim, 50, from Idlib in Syria and his family entered Lebanon through the mountains. The first week they slept outside in front of a mosque and subsequently settled in Ghaze, one of more than 1500 informal settlements in the Bekaa Valley. Before the Syrian War began, Mousa was a taxi driver and is now employed in Lebanon to do seasonal jobs for a small salary. Lacking a residence permit, he tells his children that the situation is temporary to reassure them and keep hope.
"The army surrounded our town and warned us: "One wrong step and we will destroy everything. So we hid in the basement and in the evenings we remained silent, in the dark, without lighting a single light on. One day, the rebels provoked the army and they gave us twenty-four hours to evacuate the houses. They burned everything, there was nothing left. Soon after the bombing commenced and we were very afraid. We had no choice but to run. We set off for Lebanon, and as we passed through the town of Homs we saw dozens of dead people scattered across the streets. My children looked out of the window and asked: "Why does no one wake them up?” I fear we will spend our lives waiting to return to Syria. I am afraid of tomorrow. I fear for the future of my children. What will happen if we have to leave? Where can we go?"
Saja al-Massad, 27, from Aleppo arrived in the Bekaa Valley four years ago and currently works in agriculture for $7 a day. As the work is seasonal, informal employment opportunities frequently plummet in winter which constantly leaves her family, including her husband and a young son, in uncertain economic waters.
"Landowners prefer to hire women or children because they can pay them less than men. My husband tried to work as a taxi driver, but he could not find any work, and my son works in a car workshop for $ 5 a day."
Shamsa and Ghada
Shamsa, from Raqqa, is a widow who fled to Lebanon with her six children after the arrival of ISIS in her city in the summer of 2013. “I was afraid that DAESH would recruit my sons into their ranks or that they would kidnap my daughter to make her a sex slave,” she says. Her teenage daughter Ghada recently married. Whist child marriage was common in Syria before the outbreak of conflict, the war has seen an alarming increase in the practice. Marriage is often seen as a way for families to protect their daughters against the cycle of poverty and sexual exploitation which disproportionately affects women and girls in environments of conflict. "For me it is a proud moment to celebrate the wedding as I will be less of an economic burden for my family,” says Ghada.
Action Against Hunger has been working in Lebanon since 2006 to help families who’ve fled the conflict in Syria and those hosting refugees. Paying special attention to areas where refugee concentration is highest, we’re offering water, sanitation and hygiene support; providing families with e-cards that are recharged monthly which they can use to purchase essential items such as food – a system that not only enables families to make important decisions about what they need, but also boosts the local economy; and we’re offering psychological support to those who need it. Special mother-and-baby spaces have also been established to provide nursing mothers and pregnant women with privacy and nutrition support.
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