TYRE, Lebanon: Although the Syrian war has deepened already existing sectarian divides, thousands of refugees of various religions have found shelter in Shiite-dominated areas of south Lebanon.
And many are finding assistance from unexpected sources: the Syrian regime’s ally Hezbollah, and their co-religionists and political partners, the Amal Movement.
There are no exact numbers of how many refugees have headed south, and the question is complicated by the fact that thousands of Syrians already lived in area, working in agriculture in Zahrani, Tyre, Nabatieh, Marjayoun, and areas on the border with Israel.
In front of the Basel al-Assad Education Center in Tyre, a young refugee played on top of an Israeli military vehicle captured by Hezbollah before Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. He explained that he and his friends were playing “resistance versus enemy.”
Nearby, around 50 families live in tents. Some are new arrivals, and others have been in the area for years. Mohammad Alwan, an agriculture worker who lives in one of the shelters, explained that despite the political ties of some new arrivals, “we don’t talk politics here. Everyone is entitled to their option, and humanitarian problems are the major concern.”
“The families who stay here work in agriculture, and many have been here for a long time now,” he continued. “Now there are new families, and it is getting crowded.”
Like refugees across the country, many in the south are living in abject poverty. In Ras al-Ain, south of Tyre, some 200 families are staying in tents wedged between a garbage dump and a highway. The people there said life in Lebanon was worse than it was in war-torn Syria. Not far away, a young woman sifted through trash with her two brothers for empty cans to sell.
According to the Union of Tyre Municipalities, there are 1,509 Syrian refugees in Tyre and its environs alone. The union’s head, Abdel-Mohsen alHusseini, said the municipalities were keeping statistics on the refugees as well as assisting international organizations who are distributing aid.
Another group keeping tabs on the refugees is Hezbollah, who sources said was also collecting data on the Syrians in the municipalities it controls. Sources familiar with their work said such statistics were kept before, but now the party was more careful about collecting locations, phone numbers and photographs of refugees and Syrian workers.
Hezbollah also provides food, medical aid, blankets and mattresses to refugees. They declined to discuss their aid efforts, saying “working is better than talking,” but sources familiar with Hezbollah’s aid distribution in the south said the party was one of the last groups to give out assistance.
The sources said that although all southern municipalities had increased security measures since the influx of refugees, “we can’t deny that there are thousands among the refugees who support the Syrian opposition, and we are keeping an eye on them.” The group is also providing security in the areas where refugees reside.
The Amal Movement and its affiliated Islamic Message Scouts are also assisting the needy, working largely through municipalities. Like Hezbollah, they offer medical and social services, and attempt to find shelter for families, especially in Zahrani. They also help refugees find work in agriculture.
An Amal source noted that many refugees were opposition members or supporters, but said this was not a problem for the group.
The source said “we are indebted to our Syrian brethren who received us when we were refugees during the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006. They opened their homes to us, and did not differentiate between Sunni and Shiite. Now we must pay them back.”