Last week our Head of UK Ben Wilkes, together with Mark Hermann one of our corporate partner supporters, visited the projects we support for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. What they were most struck with was the vulnerability of the families living here. These people have fled to Lebanon for safety and refuge, but have found themselves in volatile environment, trying to survive a day to day existence that is full of uncertainty.
After spending time with different people in the camps Mark described how "Refugees do not necessarily escape in a cloud of bomb smoke or a shower of bullets. They live in situations not so far from our own, but they feel a threat coming closer and closer, and finally they are forced to flee. They may have lost close family or had threats made against them.
For one woman we talked to, the final drop was when her husband was kidnapped for two hours and told he must spy on family and friends - or he would be killed. They crossed the Syrian border shortly after and moved into a very primitive Lebanese refugee camp (these are not like the much nicer UN tents I see in the media a lot!). Although she had very little she proudly showed us her family and offered tea".
When interviewing different people from within the refugee community about what their most important priorities were, the constant response was they wanted to feel safe, to be able to stay with family and near friends in a culture similar to home. Most of all there is a longing to be able to return home and to normal life as soon as possible.
We all see comments on our news-feeds and screens intimating that refugees somehow have the agenda of pursuing ‘our’ possessions, lifestyle, housing and jobs. What we have found spending time with this community is that none of these things are considerations for a family fleeing violence.
Mark described how “Even when living in an improvised 'tent' made of plastic and bits of wood, the people I met did not even remotely think of going west unless they were literally forced to. On the same morning they had stated that they felt safe in the refugee camp, the military arrived there, fully armed, announcing that the camp had to be cleared in a week due to a military base expansion. They gave no direction of where to go to, and still till this did not put the west on the radar for these families”.
The military base is being expanded from a nearby checkpoint, and for security reasons the army do not want any camps in the sightline of the base. This will affect not just this camp, but up to 25 camps along the border. To give some context, this is around 2,500 Syrian families (10,000 people) who will be displaced within Lebanon.
This evacuation is a devastating blow for people in the camps we are working in. The school we support in this camp will have to move, the families will have to move, and there is currently no place for them to go. One family had just saved up a year’s worth of rent money and paid the landowner for a space for their tent. They will not get this money back, and will have no money to pay rent should they find another space to rent. Many landowners abuse the desperation of families needing land, using sexual exploitation, unpaid labour and child labour as payment when people have no other means to pay.
Project Manager Nuna has managed to negotiate a 10 day extension to the evacuation deadline, but describes the current feelings of the community: “We met again some of our teachers yesterday (they’re from within the camp and want to follow us wherever we set the new education centre) and the fear of the unknown is really high. It’s winter time. How can they quickly find another place to go to? What will they do with their families, where will they sleep? How will they pay for the next landlord? How will they move their belongings? After they dismantle their tent how will they take all the wood and plastic?”
We’d really appreciate any support you can give, whether it’s a donation via our site or our Just Giving appeal, whether you can buy our ‘All Wrapped Up’ Christmas paper, or just share information about the project, it all makes a difference.
This space was covered in tents before being moved on by the military a few weeks ago