BEIRUT

Lubnan

Refugees reflect on struggles to adapt in Lebanon

BEIRUT: A chemical attack, starvation tactics, a strategic military offensive and a siege. They all had different reasons for coming, but their reason for remaining refugees in Lebanon are the same: The war in Syria is proving to be intransigent, and places they once called home are now unrecognizable.Farah, 24, and her mother were among the tide of desperate people rushing to leave the besieged town of Moadamieh in September 2013. The area had been closed off since March and supplies were running short. She was among the throngs pleading to be saved from starvation.

Today she works as a volunteer helping fellow refugees in settlements in the Bekaa Valley.

“Our house was bombed and destroyed,” she says matter-of-factly. The phrase is a common refrain among the Syrian refugees of Lebanon. But Farah boldly speaks of her fears, ones that many refugees who still hope to go back stop short of articulating fully.

“I fear that we will become like the Palestinians in Lebanon, and spend decades demanding the right of return,” she says.

She spent the winter in a house with no window shutters and became accustomed to the cold.

“We are like the Bedouins,” she says. “We live in a house that’s worse than a tent.”

When she thinks of the future, she imagines herself to be a Palestinian girl dreaming of going back to her homeland.

To those who laud her resilience she retorts, “I’ve only adapted myself to receiving pity from people.”

“But no matter,” she says. “I am still a Syrian girl from Moadamieh, and I keep my head high.”

Farah is returning to Syria in two days to renew her entry permit, as she cannot afford the renewal fee of $200.

“I am going back and I’m afraid I might be imprisoned. But I have no choice.”

To protect her identity she asked The Daily Star to use a pseudonym. She chose the name “Farah” meaning happiness in Arabic. “Maybe I’ll find it,” she quips.

Yehya Faris, 35, arrived to Lebanon in June 2013 during the battle of Qusair, which paved the way for the regime to recapture the strategic province of Homs. At the time, he had been a teacher in the border city of Raqqa for five years.

Now he lives in an informal settlement in Deir Zannoun, where he holds classes for 60 refugee children in his tent. The children were turned away from the public schools in the area for lack of space.

“I made my own curriculum, and it can be adapted for children of all ages,” he says proudly.

He remains optimistic, despite the fact that the only news of home he’s had in the past year were photographs confirming that his home in Qusair has been devastated from the fighting.

In the winter, they used heaters fueled with wood instead of kerosene, because heating allowances from aid organizations were insufficient. The tents are very cold during the night and hot during the days; Faris rarely finds balance.

“We have begun to accommodate ourselves to our difficult life here,” he says. “Though I never imagined living here.”

He pauses, and says assuredly “I am hopeful that things will be resolved and that I will go back to my home soon.”

Khalid al-Bazazi, 38, was a plumber back in Syria and owned a shop and a house in Bab Amr. “Now it’s all gone.”

He arrived on May 6, 2012, from Bab Amr, which was once the epicenter of the rebel uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Bazazi was there as government forces regained the district but left before he could witness how it was left uninhabitable by intense rocket attacks and air raids.

“I have no news of our neighborhood, or our homes,” he says. “We can’t communicate with anyone there.”

He now lives with his family of five in a tent in the town of Dilhimiyeh in the coastal area of Chouf, where, he says, he has become a shadow of his former self. There’s no way he can keep living in Lebanon, he says.

“We haven’t been able to adapt,” he says. “We have been exploited and mistreated by the people here. If any of us says anything, they would kick us out of the land we are living in.”

Syrian refugees are being exploited for financial gain, he complains: “They make the newcomers erect their tents near the grocery shops so they can benefit from them.”

Bazazi managed to find work but was never paid by his employers, he believes, because he was not protected. Luckily, he says, the children go to a public school nearby.

When he has time to think, it’s about leaving to Jordan, or better yet, a Western country. Anywhere but Lebanon. In an ideal world, he would return to Syria.

But all three expressed reservations about going back for good, as it would require coming to terms with the fact that the places they had known have greatly changed and would never be the same. Nevertheless, they are quick to recall the things they missed most.

“I only want to go back for five minutes to walk, just to walk in the neighborhood where I used to live and breathe the air again,” Bazazi says. “That’s all I want.”

“I don’t care about the cars and properties I lost. I want to go back to our orchards. That’s the thing I miss the most,” concludes Faris.

“I just miss Syria,” Farah sighs.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 04, 2014, on page 2.

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Summary

They all had different reasons for coming, but their reason for remaining refugees in Lebanon are the same: The war in Syria is proving to be intransigent, and places they once called home are now unrecognizable.Farah, 24, and her mother were among the tide of desperate people rushing to leave the besieged town of Moadamieh in September 2013 .

The phrase is a common refrain among the Syrian refugees of Lebanon. But Farah boldly speaks of her fears, ones that many refugees who still hope to go back stop short of articulating fully.

"I fear that we will become like the Palestinians in Lebanon, and spend decades demanding the right of return," she says.

She spent the winter in a house with no window shutters and became accustomed to the cold.

At the time, he had been a teacher in the border city of Raqqa for five years.

Now he lives in an informal settlement in Deir Zannoun, where he holds classes for 60 refugee children in his tent.

Khalid al-Bazazi, 38, was a plumber back in Syria and owned a shop and a house in Bab Amr.

Anywhere but Lebanon. In an ideal world, he would return to Syria.


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