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Palestinian refugee from Syria commits suicide in Ain al-Hilweh

A Palestinian official inspects a room where a man hanged himself in Sidon’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: A Palestinian who fled Syria to Lebanon committed suicide overnight, apparently after receiving news that his mother’s health was rapidly deteriorating in a Damascus hospital, his wife said Wednesday.

“My husband is gone. He left me with four girls,” said Rima Bakari, carrying her 8-month-old daughter in her arms. Her three other young daughters stood nearby.

Her husband, Mohammad Maarouf al-Misilbi, was found dead Tuesday night, hanging from a cable in an abandoned room at the top of a building in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.

“My daughters have asthma so he always goes up to the roof to smoke and lights a fire to warm up, but this time he was late and when I called for him he didn’t answer me. I went up there and I found him dead,” his wife said.

Bakari said the family rented the house after they fled the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus two weeks ago.

Statements from his family and members of the community reveal the story of a man, who, upon escaping civil strife in Syria, was unable to provide for his family in Lebanon.

Security personnel began the investigation by taking statements from the deceased man’s wife and daughters. The body was later transferred to Hamshari Hospital.

“One of the residents informed us of the incident and after examining the place we concluded that there was not any foul play and that the man committed suicide,” said Ain al-Hilweh’s security official Abu Ziad Nasr. “We are investigating the reasons behind his desperate move.”

“My mother-in-law, who has a heart disease, fled Syria with us, but we had to send her back to a hospital in Syria because hospital bills are very costly here,” she said.

Misilbi, 36, was one of many to flee Yarmouk. Deadly clashes in the camp between loyalists and Syrian rebels made headlines mid-December. According to estimates released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, about 150,000 residents have fled Yarmouk since clashes erupted.

Starting anew in Lebanon for Misilbi, who worked previously at a textile factory in Syria, presented many difficulties. When his attempts to secure employment were not met with success, he found it increasingly difficult to provide for his family’s basic necessities.

According to his wife, before taking his own life, Misilbi could not bring his family food for the evening. Bakari said she tried to comfort her husband, saying she could cook with the dwindling supplies at home. It was then that he decided to smoke a cigarette, something Bakari thought routine, and never came back.

The hardships faced by Misilbi’s family have doubled with his death, as his wife and daughters have lost their sole breadwinner.

“Mohammad Maarouf al-Misilbi was displaced from Yarmouk camp in Syria to Ain al-Hilweh camp in Lebanon, and he committed suicide after he reached a dead end and couldn’t secure a proper living for his family,” said Fouad Othman, a member of the Ain al-Hilweh Popular Committees. “We call on all international organizations and civil communities to secure a decent life for the displaced so that this case will not set a precedent for refugees. We demand that the Lebanese state and international community fully shoulder their responsibilities.”

Over 200,000 refugees, including 10,000 Palestinians, have sought shelter in Lebanon since the outbreak of violence in Syria in March 2011.

“He died with a broken heart and he didn’t want to beg because he was proud,” said the deceased man’s wife.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 17, 2013, on page 4.

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