Waiting to go home: Medina's story
Enduring a ninth winter in the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon is no life at all.
Feb 26 2020
Winter has returned to Aarsal in Lebanon – a town close to the eastern border with Syria. For many refugees in their ninth year away from home, the biting wind and endless rain is now just a way of life.
Plastic sheets held in place by screws and tape are supported by rain-soaked wooden beams. These tents house families for years at a time. In the narrow walkways between them, bicycles lie on broken blocks of concrete and the occasional plastic water container balanced delicately on piles of broken bricks and mortar.
Families have fled here from Syria to escape the never-ending war.
EIGHT YEARS ON AND STILL NOT HOME
Medina sits cross-legged in her makeshift home as she considers where to begin.
“We have been here for eight years, since the war started,” she says
“We are from Homs, a rural area. We used to be farmers; we had gardens we owned and worked in. We had some animals, we produced a little milk, we made it by ourselves my husband and I.”
Medina and her family fled Syria in 2012.
“Our home was destroyed by an airstrike. I was still inside when we were hit… my blood skyrocketed which caused kidney failure… we had to escape… to leave everything and run for our lives.”
Eight years on, it is still too dangerous for Medina and her family to return home. They make the most of what little they have but life in the camps is hard. There is limited access to medical treatment and what little they do receive is often inadequate.
“I have to wash my kidney,” she says “But there are no doctors for that, only a nurse and she isn’t really qualified. When you get sick there is no one to go to.”
"NOT HERE TO COLONISE"
The huge influx of over a million refugees has placed major demands on the Lebanese economy.
“We are not here to colonise,” says Medina. “We are only trying to protect ourselves from the freezing cold during the winter… we hope to be able to return to our home. There is nothing like home.”
“Things are getting harder here in Lebanon because of the unrest,” Medina continues. “Prices go up and it is getting increasingly difficult to cash aid cards. Now we go to Zahle or Beirut, but I have to be the one going because my husband doesn’t have the papers. Having to deal with the road traffic and crowded banks makes it so much harder.”
FUEL FOR WINTER
The most important thing is to make sure the tent is standing strong so that water doesn’t leak inside. “The second priority is to have fuel for heat otherwise we freeze, explains Medina.
“We only have what our kids provide us with from their work.”
In previous years, various charity organizations have helped them with providing fuel. This year however, they have been forced to sacrifice part of their expenses to afford fuel for heating.
Medina’s oldest daughter is now married and has a family of her own to look after, but her younger son and daughter, aged 15 and 17, both dropped out of school to work.
“Sometimes they find a job and get paid fairly. Other times they get robbed by people who have no respect for human beings. Now they are out working but I don’t have any idea where they might be today. They do everything in their power to help us survive.”
Aarsal is located in the northeast of Lebanon, an area heavily affected by the weather making it much colder than the rest of the country. Many refugees in the camp are still living in tents nine long years into the crisis.
This winter, harsh weather conditions including torrential rain has made conditions for families living in the camp increasingly difficult.
“We take good care of our tent,” Medina explains. “But that doesn’t mean that we would not get affected if the flooding lasts much longer, the pluming inside the tent will start to overflow and ruin everything.”
Flooding caused by the heavy rain is contaminating camp water making it extremely unhygienic, putting families at risk of infectious diseases.
“I wished we lived in a different place other than this camp, especially because we have bad medical conditions, my husband and I. I am not in good shape, sometimes I have a hard time walking. If I do go out I could easily fall because there are no proper streets to walk in.”
“Every time I wake up and see my children I remember our time back in Syria, I see my country in my children,” Medina tells us. “My dream is to go back and help them secure their future.
WHAT IS HAPPENING?
With a population of 4.4 million, Lebanon is under severe pressure hosting around 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
Few job prospects, social marginalisation and the overall strain on the economy has only fuelled tensions between communities, adding extra stress to an already fragile situation.
Our teams are in difficult to reach areas such as Aarsal helping to ensure basic assistance is provided to as many families as possible.
We are working hard in the refugee camps to:
- install latrines and pumps to supply fresh, clean water to hundreds of families
- Stabilizing the muddy ground with gravel and protecting the tents from flooding
Donate now and help us ease the harsh reality of winter for countless families waiting to go home.
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