Give me shelter: Syrian refugees in Lebanon

4 Jul 2013   |   Blog   |   Syria   |   Emergency Relief

Tags:  Lebanon, humanitarian aid, refugee, Syrian refugees, shelter   |   No comments

Tents in the Bekaa Valley

By Patrick Nicholson, Caritas Internationalis

Since the start of the conflict in 2011 in Syria, over 1.7 million people have fled to neighbouring countries. Lebanon has received the largest number of refugees in the region. Although there are half a million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon, the true number is estimated to be beyond 1 million...

Suitable accommodation has long since run out in the small country, and the refugees must find anywhere they can for shelter.


A Syrian refugee family in Lebanon

What will our destiny be? We don’t even have enough money for bread."

Khatar lives with her six children in a cowshed on a farm in the Bekaa Valley. The small room of wood and metal sheeting is home to 25 people altogether, almost all women and children.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “A sewage pipe runs inside the shed. It leaks when it rains. The children are very sick because of the bad hygiene. But it’s either here or we live on the streets.”

It’s a long way from her old life in Qusair, a once-thriving border city of 30,000 people reduced to ruins by Syria’s bitter conflict. With her husband trapped in Syria and her resources spent after two months as a refugee in Lebanon, everyday is a struggle.

The owner of the cowshed has given them 15 days to find somewhere else to live. She needs her shed back for her cows.

“I’m worried about our future. Where shall we go? What will our destiny be? We don’t even have enough money for bread,” said Khatar.

Caritas has been able to provide the five families in the cowshed with food and bedding. Khatar says she is too poor to pay for transport to the nearby Caritas centre, where a medical unit operates. So a Caritas doctor will visit her. And a Caritas social worker is securing better accommodation for the family.

“We wouldn’t eat if Caritas wasn’t here,” said Khatar. “We are so grateful. May God help them in their mission.”


A child in a half-built apartment block in Lebanon

“We want to go home. If there was peace, I’d live in a tent.”

Around 120 Syrians shelter in the half-built multi-storey apartment block in Taalabaya in the Bekaa Valley. The building has a roof, bare concrete walls and stairs, but not much else.

Building materials are scattered around, exposed metal rods stick out at every angle, children peer through large holes in the walls, and elderly couples sleep perilously on balconies with nothing to stop them from rolling into oblivion.

“We found this building and decided to stay,” said Hoda, who lives here with her three children – Bilal, Mohamad and Sora. They had fled their village in Syria when the mayhem had become too much.

“The man who owns it knows we are here but he doesn’t charge us anything. Some Lebanese families gave us blankets and mattresses because it was winter when we arrived and it was very cold,” she said.

“This building is not safe, especially for the children. There is no electricity and no walls to stop them falling off the building. Two weeks ago we found a snake.”

Some of the dangers are not so tangible. “The children believe the building is haunted,” she said. “When it gets dark, they go in twos because they are so scared.”

Her biggest challenge now is to find food for three hungry children. Caritas Lebanon has helped them with food, water and medical care, but as the numbers of Syrian refugees grows every day, so do the needs.

“We had a very good life before the war but now everything has changed,” she says. “There is no work here so we can’t earn money to buy food. We eat once or maybe twice a day, mostly just bread and oil.”

Asked what she wants more than anything, Hoda’s answer is simple: “We want to go home. If there was peace, I’d live in a tent.”

Caritas Lebanon is providing aid and care to Syrian refugees wherever they might be. We will continue to publish stories of Syrian refugees that Caritas staff meet.

Learn more about the crisis in Syria

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