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Dancer’s Suicide Highlights Misery of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

  • Cecily Hilleary

Syrian refugee Hassan Rabeh is seen in picture from his Facebook page.

Syrian refugee Hassan Rabeh is seen in picture from his Facebook page.

Just hours after his last public performance in Beirut Wednesday night, a Syrian refugee dancer jumped from his seventh-floor balcony in an act of despair that experts say is increasingly prevalent among refugees living in Lebanon.

In a June 13th Facebook post interpreted as a suicide note, Hassan Rabeh, 25, asked forgiveness from family and loved ones. He also cited despair over the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory

Rabeh, 25, was a member of the Sima Dance Company, founded in Damascus in 2003. Comprised of dancers and graduates of the Syrian Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts, Sima gained regional fame in 2013 after winning the “Arabs Got Talent” television contest. Rabeh, who wore his hair long, can be seen in the YouTube video below:

About 1.2 million Syrians are registered as refugees in Lebanon, says the UN Refugee Agency. That means refugees constitute one in four people of Lebanon’s total population, competing for jobs, schooling and other resources. As many as a million more may be awaiting registration, which the UN temporarily suspended in May on orders of the government in Beirut.

Worsening conditions

Five years into the Syrian war, these refugees face a multitude of challenges. A 2015 assessment by the UN Refugee Agency, World Food Program and UNICEF found that 16% of the Syrian refugees sampled were living in unacceptable and dangerous conditions. Eight in ten households said they struggled to buy food. Joblessness and mounting debt increased their reliance on assistance, putting stress on Lebanon’s economy.

“The situation is not getting better,” UNHCR’s Lebanon representative Mireilla Girard said June 20 in comments marking World Refugee Day. “Humanitarian assistance can cover a certain number of needs for the most vulnerable, but we cannot pay the rent for everyone, the electricity cost for everyone, the water cost for everyone.”

Syrian refugees face an increasing risk of exploitation into the sex trade, early marriages and forced labor, according to a recent Freedom Fund report.

They also face resentment and discrimination over Syria’s aggressive role in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. And because of tough residency requirements, they live in constant fear of deportation.

Living the 'humiliation'

A 2014 UN Population Fund study found that 41% of Syrians have considered suicide as an option to the hardships they face as refugees in Lebanon.

Hassan Rabeh (L) seen in YouTube screenshot from 2013 'Arab's Got Talent' reality talent show broadcast by MBC4 across the Middle East. Rabeh was a member of Sima dance troop,which won first place in the 2013 contest.

Hassan Rabeh (L) seen in YouTube screenshot from 2013 'Arab's Got Talent' reality talent show broadcast by MBC4 across the Middle East. Rabeh was a member of Sima dance troop,which won first place in the 2013 contest.

Those who knew him say that in spite of his success as a dancer and teacher in Beirut, Rabeh was severely troubled.

“I didn’t know much about Hassan,” London-based journalist Mohamad-Ali Nayel blogged Thursday. “I knew he fled Damascus a few years back and I could tell that Beirut was chewing through his sanity. Each time we spoke he struck me as always upset, uttering things that made no sense to me, but did to him. I felt that he was always trying to convey what he felt in words that couldn’t quite translate the immensity of his sadness and the injustice he felt.”

“He couldn’t stand living the humiliation of Beirut,” he added.

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