SIDON, Lebanon: Thousands of families have fled the unrest in Syria, carrying to Lebanon their own story of displacement. For the many Lebanese nationals coming back to their country after seeking refuge in Syria, the return home brings particular challenges.
“We are destined to stay refugees even in our country, and we have been displaced twice: once during the war in Lebanon and the other during the civil war in Syria,” Fatima Kurdi says.
Kurdi’s Lebanese husband, Khalil Nakhal, died 35 years ago during Lebanon’s Civil War, prompting her to go to Syria. She lived in the Damascus neighborhood of al-Hajar al-Aswad but left when her home was destroyed during recent uprisings in the area.
Kurdi resolved to escape to Lebanon with her son Mohammad, his wife and their four children. They found shelter in a school that was opened last summer to refugees in the Iqlim al-Kharroub town of Shehim. But soon after, they were forced to leave because they held Lebanese passports.
“We are now living in a garage and going through a lot of hardship,” she says. “Some people gave us a sponge mattress, a rug and some food but we need a real home – even if it is one room – so that I can live in it with my family.”
A good-willed neighbor, Mohammad Hnaino, allowed the family to take shelter in his garage in Bab al-Fawqa, an impoverished Sidon neighborhood. It is here that the family currently reside, where the makeshift living room becomes the family bedroom by nightfall.
“The door of the garage doesn’t even close properly and it doesn’t protect us against the cold or the dangers of the street,” Kurdi says, adding that the family remains vulnerable to rodents and insects.
To make matters worse, Kurdi’s son Mohammad recently underwent a spinal cord operation. “He can’t work anymore and I don’t know what to do.”
These dire straits drove Kurdi to make an appeal to Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri and MP Fouad Siniora for help.
Responding to her appeal, Kamel Kuzbar, who heads the Sidon branch of the Union of Aid Organizations for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, sent workers to provide the family with blankets, mattresses and food.
Workers also replaced the door and installed makeshift walls inside the garage to form separate rooms.
For now, it is somewhere to call home.