In Zahle, a region in the Bekaa Valley, eastern Lebanon, the day before crossing into Syria, we visit one of the many areas where refugee tent-homes have sprung up over the past few years. Many of the displaced Syrians in the Fayda camp are from Aleppo, Homs, Idlib, Raqqa…
The UN reports that there are around one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but these are registered refugees, the number of un-registered refugees isn’t known. The camp we go to is not one of the UN organized camps; people in Fayda rent their plot of cement, erect simple dwellings of metal poles and scraps of plastic banners. While the homes themselves are sturdier than dwellings I’ve seen in occupied Palestine (particularly Susiya, whose residents were expelled by the standard Israeli policy of declaring a Palestinian area a “closed military zone,” or the tents of Palestinians in Gaza whose homes were bombed or demolished by the Israeli army), the living conditions of the Syrians in Fayda are dismal. Most notably, the water is contaminated with the raw sewage running through ditches flanking the camp.
Walking through the narrow lanes between tent-dwellings, two different women proudly showed off their newborns. One, Khalil, is just 25 days old, born in this shanty camp. The other is a few months into his displacement.
Trying to get a sense of who the people are and where they’re from, we come across Mohammed, from Aleppo, a man in his late twenties who has only been in the camp for 15 days, with his wife and two young kids. He doesn’t delve into political talk, nor on the nature of the violence in his region. But he does repeatedly say that they left Aleppo because it had gotten impossibly expensive, he couldn’t afford even vegetables and bread.
A recent report cites a WFP official warning of a drought in Syria’s north, saying:
“the impact of a looming drought hitting the northwest of the country – mainly Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama – with rainfall less than half of the long-term average and potentially major impacts on the next cereal harvest.”
Further along in the camp we stumble across the camp’s school, a UN-supported project which educates around 400 kids from 4 to 18 years old.
The school’s director, a youngish man from Homs, has been in the camp for nearly 3 years.
An older man, also from Aleppo, is freer with his words. Mohanned and the 13 others in their simple plastic dwelling have been there a year. “We left because of the violence,” he says.
But aside from saying that the world is just watching Syria’s slaughter, he also doesn’t delve into the geopolitics of it all.
He offers us coffee, but we’ve just been served coffee by Mohammed’s wife, so decline. Since the issue of beverages has come up, he takes us to their makeshift well: a barrel in the ground from which they draw water Mohanned says is filthy from the sewage and other contaminants.