By Simon Ingram
AL FAQIHA, Lebanon, 7 May 2012 – The little hilltop town of Al Faqiha is located in one of the more remote corners of the Bekaa Valley, a fertile swath of land along Lebanon’s eastern frontier. It’s also the region closest to Syria, Lebanon’s troubled neighbour, making it a natural refuge for Syrian families seeking sanctuary from the unrest in their homeland.
|April 2012: UNICEF correspondent Simon Ingram reports on the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Watch in RealPlayer|
Um Karim*, mother of seven, is one of the more recent arrivals in Al Faqiha. Her decision to flee across the mountains was made in one fearful instant, as clashes suddenly engulfed her neighbourhood.
“I just grabbed the children and ran,” she said. “We didn’t have time to take anything, not even our identity papers. We came through the valleys until we reached here.”
Her husband, a taxi driver, was unable to leave with the rest of the family. Um Karim has not heard from him since they fled.
Trying to cope
When she and her children – two of them toddlers, the eldest aged 14 – reached Al Faqiha, a local family offered them a single room to use. The room is sparsely furnished, and there’s no heating to warm them against the cold wind that sweeps off the nearby mountain slopes.
There’s not much to eat either. Um Karim points to a corner where a few plastic tubs contain rice, lentils, jam and other basic supplies.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0239/Kate Brooks|
|Ameera [NAME CHANGED] stands in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. She fled Syria with her husband and child while their village was under heavy fire. She was badly bruised when she was thrown from a truck while escaping.|
“We’re missing a lot of things,” she said. “We can manage, but this is not the life we had in Syria. We thank God. We just try to cope.”
Despite offers by Lebanese authorities to place Syrian children in local schools, but none of Um Karim’s children are currently attending class.
Fear for relatives back home
Stories like these, of stoicism and resilience in the face of hardship, loss and uncertainty, can be heard from Syrian families across the region. Latest assessments suggest there are now approximately 8,500 displaced Syrians sheltering in the Bekaa Valley. In total, there are more than 22,000 Syrians staying in Lebanon.
Some, like 24-year-old Ameera*, bear visible scars of their experiences. Her face is still badly bruised from when she was thrown out of a truck while she and others were escaping shellfire that descended on their home village.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0234/Kate Brooks|
|Um Hashem [NAME CHANGED] rests her forehead on her hand in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Her home in Syria was destroyed, and she fled to Lebanon.|
For those who have been here longer, the task of making ends meet is the biggest preoccupation.
“Here, my husband has no work,” said Salwa*, a mother of three. “We are getting some assistance, like canned food. Some relatives provided me with furniture, but rent is very high and the house is damp. I managed to find work for my son. He earns $10 a day, which helps with the rent.”
Um Hashem*, who is in her 60s, has been in Lebanon for more than a year, and belongs to a support group for displaced Syrian families. Although she acknowledges life is difficult, her biggest worry is about the fate of her son and other male relatives still inside Syria.
“We thank the Lebanese for receiving us and for giving us rice and oil and other things,” she said. “But there’s not a day that passes when I don’t worry about what’s happening back home.”
*Names changed to protect refugees’ identities