Tide of Syrian refugees ebbs and flows across Lebanese border
Syrian families are subsisting in camps in the Bekaa Valley that the Lebanese government claims do not exist
Muhammad Ismail, a portly man in a suit, says they grew cotton, wheat, beetroot and lentils on their farms until bombing began, damaging and destroying homes and crops and killing and maiming people.
Further along the highway 70 refugees live at an encampment, three or four families to each large canvas tent. Amr Askri turns his head to display the scars of wounds he received when his house near Aleppo was bombed.
“I have injuries in my leg and abdomen. The Hariri family clinic refuses to treat me because I’m single. We get our bread on credit, we borrow from friends and relatives for materials for our tents.”
Abdel Karim Hamadi arrives with a box of supplies donated by the municipality for his daughter’s baby, due at any moment. “Her husband was a [rebel] fighter and became shaheed [martyred].”
Across the road, another 500 refugees dwell in a better organised camp. Muhammad Hamdan, a grave man in dark kaftan, arrived on Friday from the rebel-held Tariq al-Bab district of Aleppo city. “We had no electricity, no water, no food. The Free Army gives people a few things.”
His daughter, her husband and four children were killed. He is caring for surviving grandchildren, his wife and other children, eight in all.
The refugees have dug wells and erected breeze-block toilets as well as large tents of canvas stretched over wooden frames. “We have become carpenters,” remarks Ibrahim, a long-term resident.
Laundry flaps on lines strung between tents with small satellite dishes. “We pay $300 to $400 rent a year for each tent.”
They get drinking water from the car wash across the road.
The sprawling, chaotic border crossing at Masnaa is half an hour’s drive away. Cars with Syrian plates park haphazardly on the roadside while owners and passengers clear immigration before crossing into Syria.
Formalities are slow for Syrians entering Lebanon, some in cars piled high with luggage, others in taxis or buses.
A young couple with a baby wait for their vehicle to pass through customs. “We’re visiting relatives,” the youth says. “Anyone who leaves for good is not a patriot.”
Nearby, a taxi driver is waiting for clients. “Seven thousand come every day, 2,000 go back,” he says.
The tide ebbs and flows.