For Lebanon's displaced Syrians, hope is a powerful thing

For displaced Syrian refugees in Lebanon, hope is a powerful thing
4 min read
24 Dec, 2020
Comment: Ayman Agabani finds that even the smallest of gestures can bring hope to Syrian refugees enduring a cold, hard winter in Lebanon.
Freezing temperatures in the Bekaa valley make everyday survival a challenge [Muslim Hands]
"We just want to go home!" This was the only answer I received, each time I asked a Syrian refugee camped out in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, what they wanted most.

Stuck in this ice-cold valley, away from any semblance of what any of us might call home, this half-way space exists in the middle of emptiness. Dozens of Syrian refugees have been grouped together in makeshift shelters, survival is now their only occupation.

Families of four to six, sometimes more, can do nothing else but wait for the day they can return home safely, or reconnect with a family member in a far away land for support. Both options though, seem impossible. These refugees now belong in the confines of the fences and barbed wire that outline the camp. Stateless, homeless, identityless.

Their home in Syria is now a distant memory, and the prospect of assimilating into the cities of Lebanon seems like an alien concept. 

This camp is one of the more fortunate among those we visited. Well managed and maintained, dozens of refugees receive the aid they are so reliant on. The emergency packs Muslim Hands delivers of blankets, fuel, and food have been a much-needed lifeline. But their life is hard. I notice boxes of orange peel in the camps - signs of the menial jobs taken up in the interim, to make some extra money. Others sell sweets to the children. 

Dozens of Syrian refugees have been grouped together in makeshift shelters, survival is now their only occupation

In both camps I visited, women - many of them widows - and children outnumber the men. Their stories have a similar thread - loss of their husbands during the war, tales of men who are either missing, killed or left behind. 

When I met with Fatima at Abrar camp, she told a story of hardship and sorrow. A widow with five children, she used to run a business with her husband in the Golan Heights, Syria. When the war first broke out, she would hear the bombs in the distance, but never thought it would impact her and the family directly.

One day her husband went to buy bread from another village and never came back. To this day, Fatima has no news as to what happened to him. For the safety of her children, her family advised her to flee. She escaped to a refugee camp in Lebanon, leaving everything behind. Now the sole guardian of five children, they are all dependent on charity to protect them from the bitter winter cold. Without it, her family risks illness or worse.

Many of the camp's residents are widows
supporting young children [Muslim Hands]

Stories like Fatima's are sadly the norm. And with the pandemic bringing a new wave of catastrophe to those living below the poverty line, our work at Muslim Hands is more vital now than ever. This year, we aim to distribute over £270,000 worth of aid across six countries, to support 25,000 beneficiaries. The countries that will be supported include Lebanon, Afghanistan and the UK.

For many, especially those living in poverty, the harsh winter months bring a new struggle for survival. Years of civil war have left millions of Syrian families displaced worldwide. Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita, with 1.5 million from Syria, according to UNRWA.

On that trip, I also met Mohammed, a teenager who had seen events beyond his years. He told me that while playing on the street in Syria, he and his friends were suddenly swarmed by pellets of gunshots. Mohammed took three bullets, nearly costing his life. He showed me his scars, one each on his arm, leg and abdomen. Lifelong wounds which will forever be a reminder to him. His friends, sadly, did not survive to share their story.

The harsh winter months bring a new struggle for survival

These refugees' stories speak of such strength and resilience. Many went from living comfortably, to a life of no privacy, no way of staying warm, and the loss of loved ones. Their continuous suffering was palpable. 

Still, they have daily lives, like you and me. They need to eat, put clothes on their back, and provide for the families that rely on them.

Our job at Muslim Hands continues, and that is to help them survive and get them through these bitter winter months. I like to believe that what keeps them going in the camps, is the hope that manifests through the support they receive.

Charities like Muslim Hands show them that their struggle has not been forgotten. And if they know that people, thousands of miles away are thinking of them, then that is a powerful thing.  

Muslim Hands has been working in Lebanon since 2001, supporting refugees and others living in poverty. You can donate to helping their work in Lebanon here

Ayman Agabani is the Communications Manager at Muslim Hands. In his six years with the organisation he has travelled to visit Muslim Hands projects in Somalia, Malawi, Indonesia, Sudan, Bangladesh and Lebanon.

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