TRIPOLI, Lebanon: For many Syrian refugees in Lebanon, access to a decent standard of living and good health conditions is no more guaranteed here than it was at home.
After fleeing the unrest in Syria, which has led to around 32,000 deaths thus far, the difficult journey is far from over, as refugees must find shelter, clothing and food, and the never-ending task of settling legal documentation.
Of the over 100,000 registered refugees in the country, north Lebanon – in particular Akkar, Minieh and Tripoli – has hosted the largest proportion of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Many families have settled down in Akkar and Tripoli’s Mina district and have arranged temporary living quarters, often with rent paid for by donations, as there are no refugee camps in Lebanon for Syrians. Others have found shelter in disused shops and offices, donated by the owners.
For Abu Mohammad, a refugee from Baniyas, near the coastal town of Tartous, while the first part of his journey is now over the struggle continues.
“We are not used to being away from our homes and our neighborhoods, even within Syria,” he said. “How can [we] become accustomed to living in a strange country where we don’t know anyone?
“My family and I left Syria and all we were thinking about was protecting the lives of our children,” said Mohammad, who thanked the individuals and organizations who have helped the family since they arrived.
“We have received some donations allowing us to cover our rent,” although he stressed that not all Syrian refugees have been so lucky.
Abu Tarek, who has been in Lebanon with his family since the early days of the uprising in Syria, which began in March 2011, said that he arrived with savings earned in Syria that allowed him to rent an apartment in a neighborhood of Tripoli.
Neighbors donated furniture, allowing him to set up his home, but he has now run out of savings and can no longer afford to pay his rent.
Abu Tarek added that while he had a very good job in Syria, he has been unable to find work in Lebanon, and while sporadic donations help, his family’s needs are continuous and are not being met. “Despite all the food donations that we receive every now and then, the everyday needs of my family are ongoing,” he said.
His children have registered at a range of public and private schools in Tripoli, but while some elements of regular life continue, upheaval is a constant worry.
Another issue of concern to refugees, according to Abu Amer, a Local Coordination Committee official in Tripoli, is that while many had their rent paid in advance, the time period covered will soon expire, with no guarantee that those who were willing to help before will do so again.
Abu Amer said that the average monthly rent is around $400 per apartment, which is twice the salary of a Syrian worker in Lebanon. But many refugees have not even been able to find work.
“I don’t know what will happen to everyone – the situation will become very difficult because the case here is different from other countries,” Abu Amer added. In Jordan and Turkey refugee camps have been constructed, providing shelter free of charge, with the help of local charities and the U.N.
For Abu Ahmad, a 65-year-old Syrian refugee, aid provision is few and far between. He is currently residing in al-Baddawi, near Akkar.
However several times a week he travels to Zahariya where bread is donated to refugees. But without enough money to pay for a taxi, Abu Ahmad must make the journey on foot.
“I hope God won’t force anyone else to flee like I had to, because living in a foreign country is a struggle, but I hope, and what I heard from other refugees, is that the U.N. will soon provide us with more aid.”