Tide of Syrian refugees ebbs and flows across border with Lebanon
A makeshift tent in one of the camps in the Bekaa Valley.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres (C) walks with a Syrian refugee boy during his visit at a refugee camp in Nizip in Turkey’s southern Gaziantep province, yesterday. The number of refugees outside Syria could triple by the end of the year if there is no political solution to the conflict, the head of the UN refugee agency said. Photograph Veli Gurgah/Reuters
Lebanon is awash with a cresting tide of Syrian refugees.
They are everywhere. Syrians sip lattes served by Syrians in fashionable cafes on Beirut’s Hamra Street. Syrians sell delicious meat pies in a tiny bakery across from my hotel, where Syrians sleep for a night or two while collecting or seeing off family at the airport. Damascus flights have been suspended by war. Syrians beg and Syrians in green uniforms sweep the streets.
On glitzy Verdun Street, Ziad hawks fruit and vegetables from a barrow, his job in Idlib in northern Syria. He commutes to the wholesale market by mini-bus from the mountain town of Aley on the Beirut-Damascus highway.
He lives with his wife, infant son and two older children in a three-room furnished flat where the rent is an unaffordable $400 (¤308) a month. “I can feed my children but must find a cheaper place,” he says.
Ziad came four months ago and has no news about his home in rebel-controlled territory. His children go to the free Syrian school, a half-hour’s climb up a steep flight of steps. The bus is too expensive.
Fifteen people are living in the flat upstairs in the poorly finished building. Ayman, an accountant with the Central Bank of Syria, his brother-in-law, wives, their mother, Khadija, and 10 children sleep on sofas and thin mattresses on the floor. Blankets are piled in a corner. The children play on the tiny balcony.
“I brought my family here and will go home to get my $200 salary,” Ayman says in English. “When I come back I’ll look for work.”
Khadija, a gaunt woman in headscarves and green velvet gown who came two months ago, complains: “We registered with the mukhtar , or local official, but only people with wasta , or influence, get help.”
Camps along road
They are well off compared to Syrians living in Ib Elias, a town in the western Bekaa Valley where the highway is flanked by camps the Lebanese authorities claim do not exist.
Next to St Thomas’s vineyard is a small settlement of Syrians from Aleppo’s countryside. Shelters are patchworks of plastic. Raw sewage pools in a hollow. A large dog roams among chickens and ducks. We sip sweet tea sitting on chairs set next to a pen housing sheep and goats: refugees all.
Two elderly women have tattoos on their chins, indicating they are of Bedouin stock.
Muhammad Shaaban, a thin unshaven man, says: “Sometimes we get work on a farm or building site. It’s winter, so even Lebanese don’t work.”