Hope fades among Syrian refugees in Lebanon
Atualizado: 9 de Set de 2018
“What we most need to do is to hear within ourselves the sounds of the Earth crying.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Master
It´s my last day in the province of Akkar, a mountainous region in northern Lebanon which shelters over 150 thousand Syrian children, women and men. They fled their war-torn country in search of security and protection only to struggle with a new set of challenges.
We are visiting a refugee camp in the outskirts of the Lebanese city Halba, Akkar´s capital.
The way to the camp reflects deep divisions of a country that hasn´t healed from its long Civil War, let alone cope with the influx of their Syrian neighbours in the recent years. We are entering a land scarred by armed conflicts and sectarian disputes. Most of the villages and neighbourhoods are still segregated according to religion. In many instances, I am warned to stay away from this or that group.
Some sections of the road are controlled by armed Lebanese soldiers standing still in concrete checkpoints. Their presence is intimidating and unsettling. The surrounding atmosphere is equally disturbing. The air is thick and polluted, the traffic is chaotic, and waste accumulates everywhere.
As we arrive in the camp, we see tents wrapped with UNHCR plastic covering. Around 150 people live in those tents. The camp was erected four years ago in what was then an olive farm. The trees were cut off and replaced by the informal settlement which became home to many. On the ground, rocks, water pipes, and chickens. Buckets with plants and herbs bring softness to the depressing view.
The residents welcome us, a group of international workers from different parts of the world, in the educational centre, where children and youth have English and French classes. We sit in a circle with the camp´s manager, Abo Hussein. The gathering and conversation intend to raise awareness about the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, their challenges and hopes.
Abo Hussein is a former stonemason who comes from Aleppo, a city in northern Syria. When the armed groups and fights reached Aleppo and life in the city became too dangerous, he was forced to move with his family. “The conflict followed us and we were displaced many times over”, he tells the group. In 2014, after several failed attempts to find security in Syria, the family crossed the borders and settled in Akkar. Since then, the challenges continue and stability is a far-distant dream. In Abo Hussein´s words, residents of the camp are “waiting for God´s help”, because all other sources are exhausted.
“In our tradition, we receive a visitor for up to three days, but we have been here for seven years!”, explains Khaled, another Syrian refugee who joins the conversation. “We understand this is bad and that is why there is much resentment and tension with our presence.”
Listening to the stories of forcibly displaced people is a painful experience which can easily become distressing, overwhelming or numbing. As Abo Hussein continues to open himself up to us, silence falls into the room. Our translator, Mohamed, who has also fled the horrors of the war in Syria, is moved to tears. He takes a deep breath before carrying on.
Being the camp´s manager casts a double responsibility onto Abo Hussein. He is not only responsible for the physical structure and needs of the camp, but, to a certain extent, for the wellbeing of people as well. Many residents bring their problems, concerns, innermost thoughts and fears to him. They look for advice and guidance in his words.
Following the brief period of shared silence, Mohamed carries on with the translation. This time, all of us are moved to tears.
After years subjugated to punitive legislation and restriction of movement, the dream of rebuilding their lives in the Lebanese or European territory, or even returning to their homeland safely, has faded away and morphed into hopelessness. People come to Abo Hussein broken. In their minds, the only solution to their misery is death. And they ask to die, and they ask ‘why haven't we lost our lives during the war’. “Our psychological state is so damaged that our only desire is to die and end the ongoing suffering”, Mohamed translates, with a broken voice.
We witness another moment of shared silence and commotion. Two people stand up and leave the room, it is too much for them to take in. Others light cigarettes.
This is when I break-open. Have we become empty of our humanity?
I close my eyes and ask my heart, what troubles you the most? Tears were already rolling down my face and in my chest, I feel the pain for the state of our world.