Displaced But Not Forgotten: Caring for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

by Laurena Zondo, Editor of mosaic

WHILE MARIA* AND HER HUSBAND have always been among the poorer population in Syria, there were still joys in life – they were blessed with children, purchased a small apartment, saw the marriage of grown children, and the birth of grandchildren. But then fighting erupted. Five years later, the brutal civil war rages on with no end in sight.

Photo Randy Vanderveen 2015-11-30 Lebanon Beqaa Valley Family 3 Maziad MohammedMaria’s youngest, an 11-year-old daughter, stopped going to school at the mosque because “armed groups started coming into the neighbourhood and kidnapping children.” Bombs started to drop, leaving rubble and bodies in the streets – someone’s aunt killed while hanging out the laundry; someone’s nephew killed while playing football. Traumatized children started to run and hide when they heard airplanes, and they wet their beds at night.

One day a bomb falls on Maria’s building, destroying what precious little they had. “The apartment, the furniture, everything that we have is gone.” They fled to Lebanon with nothing, “just the clothes we had on, that’s it.” Their journey to the border was precarious as they passed through intense shelling and clashes between armed forces. When they arrived in Lebanon, they faced new hazards. “We felt a lot of injustice, severe injustice. During our first five months we couldn’t find bread to eat…most of the days we were sleeping hungry.”

Maria’s husband and sons looked for work but it was hard to find – jobs for refugees were restricted, and mostly temporary, low-paying ones such as summer work in fields and markets. They have lived here now for two years. “It’s very difficult being away from Syria. We live like dogs here…It’s very humiliating.” Maria’s husband is sick and unable to find work. “No one wants to hire an old man.” Most of the money her son now earns at a restaurant goes to pay the rent – two unfinished rooms in the shell of a building shared by the extended family of parents, children, sons and daughter-in-laws, and grandchildren. They are fortunate. Many others are forced to move from place to place when the rent is hiked up (which happens a lot) or a temporary job ends. An estimated two-thirds of refugees instead live in clusters of camps – small communities of makeshift tents of canvas, plastic, boards and anything else families can salvage. Even here they have to pay a small amount of rent to the landowner.

Adding to family misery is lack of school and activities for their children. Like Maria’s young daughter, many remain at home with nothing to do. They long to return to Syria and miss things like riding their bicycle, playing in the park, visiting grandfather and other relatives. They are becoming a lost generation. Maria worries a lot about family and friends who remained behind in Syria. Every day there is news of bombings and killings. At the same time, she feels unwelcome in Lebanon. Some locals who resent the presence of refugees say things to them too cruel to repeat. Years ago, Syria was the hated enemy. So today Maria is stateless, trapped between two countries – unable to live safely in one, unwanted and without rights in the other. She is overwhelmed, but so too is her host country. Lebanon, a small country of approximately 4 million, struggles to accommodate over 1 million Syrian refugees now in its midst.

But God is working a miracle in the crisis. He’s placed a big burden on a small group of believers who walk through streets and camps to look for, and help, refugees in need. They are supported by CBM and its partners, Lebanese Society for Educational & Social Development and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. “Through God’s grace and thanks to the church we were able to find some food, and to see doctors,” says Maria, who also suffers from debilitating diseases. Her family now gets two boxes of food basics to carry them through the month. Volunteer doctors give medical checkups. The sick receive medicine. An educational program and fun activities are available for children. Women meet to pray and share their troubles.

Last winter the church gave heaters and fuel to help families like Maria’s survive the cold. They continue to visit her and countless numbers of others. These visits are “nicer than honey,” says Maria. “No one else visits us.” It’s one thing Maria does enjoy in Lebanon. “I like what is coming from the church, from the believers…the warmth and love in their hearts.” A group of families living in another building share similar sentiments: “We were besieged by fighting and warring parties, we left…We were so hateful and resentful of everyone around us…The church taught us that we are all equal before God, it’s not about being Lebanese or Syrian…to forgive, love one another.” Every soul matters to God and he is reaching deep into the despair to restore.

*name has been changed

article in mosaic magazine, spring 2016