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When you meet a refugee for the first time, it can be difficult to maintain perspective. You are struck immediately by their vulnerability - so much so that you can easily forget they weren’t always this way; that displacement robbed them of the normal existence they once enjoyed.
So it was with the first refugee family I met in Lebanon’s Beqa’a Valley. Packed into a makeshift two-room tent, this family of 15 were clearly struggling. They were receiving food aid, but making it last was always a challenge. The men were trying to find jobs to support themselves, but regular work was hard to come by. And at least two members of the family had chronic illnesses, but couldn’t afford medication – forcing them to rely on the generosity of the local pharmacist for pills.
All of this was tragic. But when we asked Mohammed, the patriarch, what the hardest thing was about their new life, his answer was simple: Being away from home. Despite being just a few kilometers from their home village in Syria, the family felt like they were “in a foreign place.”
Before the Syrian conflict erupted, their lives were simple but comfortable. “We each had our own homes, land, and farms back in Syria – five families living next to each other,” Mohammed said. “We had apricot orchards, too, but now there’s no one to harvest them. Now the fruit is just falling to the ground and rotting.”
Deciding to leave Syria was not easy, given how much they would be forced to leave behind. For five months, they sat tight as their village was repeatedly overtaken by violence. Three times, Syrian Army soldiers knocked on their doors, demanding to be allowed to search for rebels and contraband. They begrudgingly let them in.
“We were caught in between the rebels and the Army – with both of them shooting at us,” Mohammed said. “Eventually, we couldn’t stay any longer; we just became too afraid for our children.”
We asked Mohammed if he had been back to check on his home and farm since he left, but he explained that it was now too dangerous for him to go back. “If we try to go to the village, the regime’s informers will hear about it,” he said. Friends had told him that his house still stood, but for how much longer he couldn’t say. “The Army is coming in every day now, breaking down doors and burning houses,” he said. “Of 100 homes in the village, at least 30 have been razed.”
Before leaving the family, we spoke to Mohammed’s wife, Asma, who was holding the most recent addition to the family: a ten-day-old baby. She spoke of needing vegetables and diapers for the children, but for her too, the toughest thing was just being away from the home she once had.
“We were comfortable before…but look at this place,” she said, looking at the pile of mattresses and a tiny cookstove – her few remaining possessions. “We do feel safe here,” she said, “but it’s not safe like home is.”June 22, 2012 | Tagged as: Lebanon, Syria, Humanitarian Response, Middle East