This blog originally appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog.
Beqa'a Valley, Lebanon
In central Lebanon’s Beqa’a Valley, there is a series of border villages that are hosting ever-larger numbers of refugees from the conflict inside of Syria.
Exact figures are hard to come by - many of the refugees are too afraid to come forward and let their presence be known - but most estimates put the final number at well over 10,000 for this region of Lebanon alone. A network of exhausted service providers and local government committees is scrambling to find the Syrians and make sure that their basic needs are met. But every day there are new arrivals who simply want to blend in and wait out the chaos from the comparative safety on this side of the border.
The Beqa’a is overall a bucolic and quiet place—the kind of place you might go to get away from it all. Our team was sitting on the rooftop of a modest house near the Lebanon-Syria border. From the roof we could see the fields almost to the Syrian border, and the tops of the gracefully crumbling stucco houses. Our host’s children occasionally pattered by barefoot and giggled as they chased each other around the rooftop, and his wife and daughters served us Arabic coffee.
We sat listening to the Syrian man talk about how lucky he felt to have this place to live, and to have his family safe with him. He had recently been arrested and detained inside Syria, but had had the “good fortune” to be able to clear his record by paying a tremendous fine. He left home and came here. He touched upon what is going on in Syria, the details of which are disturbingly well-known at this point: arrests, detentions, torture, razing of villages with tanks, and large-scale punishment and displacement of even those who are not involved in the conflict.
Then he began to describe some of the details that are not quite as well-known, but that are becoming an increasingly common part of daily life for those touched by the unrest: seeing the makeshift tents in the Lebanese countryside as he traveled inward from the border, refugees trying to cross the Syrian border into Lebanon being robbed of everything they have by Syrian border police, people sleeping in the open fields using discarded cardboard as blankets, women giving birth on the road, families of 20 or more living in small, cramped spaces.
Aid providers have some good ideas for how to support these communities, but they can’t implement them fast enough. For them to meet families’ needs, they need more resources, and that means a much greater commitment from the U.S., the Gulf countries, and other major donors.
In the yard below our rooftop, two little boys screamed. Nothing was wrong, they were just at that age when little kids discover that they can make noise of their own, and they were testing out their abilities. As the sun began to set, a low call to prayer drifted out over the fields surrounding the house. It was difficult for us to remember that a few miles away people feared for their lives every day, and that a few yards away people were crammed into one-room temporary structures wondering where their next meal might come from, how to get the medication they needed to keep their insulin levels steady, and how to keep the newborn baby warm when winter came.
But of course, for them, it was impossible to forget.
June 05, 2012
| Tagged as: Congress, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Humanitarian Response