Refugees at the settlement camp in Bekaa Valley in Lebanon remember that life in Syria before the war and bombings was good. “We worked on the land and in the fields. We had proper homes. It was heaven,” reminisces 20-year-old Miriam.
All was shattered when Miriam’s hometown, Arakka, was devastated in the Syrian conflict. They had to flee and Miriam now lives at one of the tented settlements with her two young sons.
Another family at the settlement was the Nassif family who were shepherds near Homs, Syria. The military confrontation between the Syrian military and opposition was intense. With their livestock killed and stolen, the family had no choice but to sell whatever they had and leave Syria.
The Malaysian World Vision team which visited the settlement heard many such stories of displacement and loss. These stories are repeated over and over again in the settlements visited in Bekaa Valley. People told of families separated, daughters kidnapped and sons imprisoned or killed.
What is saddest for the Syrian refugees is not knowing what the future holds for them and their children. When it was no longer safe, they all fled to Lebanon where they settled wherever they could, joining families and fellow villagers.
“Before the war, my son used to come here to work at the orchards of the landowner. So, we came here when the war broke out. The landowner allowed us to use this land. Sometimes two or three of us will work in the fields gathering fruits. There is not much work – maybe once in 10 days,” says Ali, who lives in the settlement.
Given half a chance many want to return to Syria.
“We want the war to end in Syria. We want to go back. We have no life here. We can’t go out of the camp. It is like being in prison. We are not afraid of hard work. We want to rebuild Syria. Syria is rich and we can rebuild it if there is peace and security,” says Ali.
One thing is absolutely clear. Many of the displaced left not because they want to, but had to. They said they had exchanged a rich and free life for a life akin to being in prison. It is definitely not a future they had envisaged for themselves or their children.
It is estimated that about US$600mil (RM2.6 bil) is needed each year to fund the basic needs of refugees and internally displaced persons being hosted in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. As the crisis prolongs, the world’s attention will wane, overtaken by more current events.
According to World Vision Lebanon (WV Lebanon), the World Food Programme used to give out US$30 (RM129) vouchers to each person per month.
This amount was estimated to be sufficient for a person to buy enough food to get the minimum calories and nutrients to survive each month. The stipend was then reduced to USD$19 (RM82) and then again to USD$13.50 (RM58) up to a maximum of five persons per family. These vouchers are used to purchase basic necessities. With the high cost of living, the amount is insufficient.
World Vision, on the other hand, works to provide water, sanitation and hygiene to the settlements. It has installed latrines and water tanks and is providing sewage desludging services.
“Maintaining hygiene is important given the conditions. It minimizes water-borne diseases and outbreaks which can be devastating, adding to the hardships of those within the settlements and the host countries,” said WV Lebanon Technical Specialist John Stiefel.
The organisation also runs on-site schools for refugee children who are not attending schools. Work is also being done with parents to emphasise the importance of education for children. However insufficient funding and budget cuts are impacting many of the efforts.
“We had to stop some of the schools programmes as we didn’t have funding. Currently, more than 70% of school-aged Syrian children in Lebanon have no access to education,” said WV Lebanon communications manager Patricia Mouamar.
Fourteen-year-old Abdullah spends his days playing with friends and looking after his sister who is mentally challenged.
He is extremely protective over his sister, afraid that some mishap may befall her if she wanders off alone.
He also does chores like gathering wood and twigs from the surrounding orchard as fuel for his mother’s stove. Once in awhile he draws but pencils and paper are luxuries he can ill afford.
For many of the children at the settlements, even their most basic right to play is compromised. Young girls swing from improvised swings hanging from dilapidated structures while boys gathered to play football without a ball.
Violence and the use of violence as a form of communication starts young. Used pipes are turned into toy guns and pebbles bullets. These home-made weapons pack quite a punch as young boys chased each other re-enacting the fighting they had seen in Syria and declaring that they want to return to fight
“The strengthening of the US dollar coupled with the high-cost environment pose a double whammy for the crisis. Funding was down as much as 30% last year. We have to prioritise and re-strategise even as we choose where we should focus.
“Not doing anything is not an option. The situation can be a breeding ground for ISIL and other influences,” said WV Lebanon national director Rein Dekker.
The global refugee and migrant crisis is not going away anytime soon. Given the increasingly borderless nature of the world, the Syrian refugee crisis can no longer be seen as a Middle-East or a European problem. We can’t be bystanders for long; the day will come when we will have no choice but to take a stand.
World Vision Malaysia is raising funds to help alleviate the refugee crisis. If you’d like to donate to the Syrian Refugee Crisis fund, please visit www.worldvision.com.my. This article is courtesy of World Vision Malaysia.