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Lebanese Border Town Harbors Syrian Refugees

  • Henry Ridgwell

Thousands of Syrian refugees have fled into northern Lebanon to escape the violence. Syrians live in fear despite finding a temporary safe haven as local Lebanese have lost a key point of commerce.

A checkpoint guards the one road into Wadi Khaled. Beyond that, there’s little sign of the Lebanese army. Lying on the border, this town used to be a booming frontier trading post. It’s just 20 minutes’ drive to the flashpoint Syrian city, Homs.

Now hardly anyone is making the crossing - and the residents are in the constant shadow of the violence happening a few hundred meters away in Syria.

Fields along this porous frontier have now been mined by the Syrian army. Opposition supporters say it’s to stop people fleeing the violence into Lebanon. Syria claims arms are being smuggled over from Lebanon to be used against government forces.

Akbar Awayed fled to Lebanon from his village of Talkalakh just a few kilometers away. He says people are living in terror.

“I live here, I live on the river bank,” he said. “Syria is just next-door and almost on a daily basis they shoot across. Usually it’s just shots but sometimes there has been mortar fire and we have had casualties. He adds, "I have a family, and we all sit in a room and we huddle together. It’s terrifying,” Awayed said.

At the end of a rough track one refugee took VOA to see the point from where he crossed. The local children say Syrian forces often fire across the river into this village. In December local media said three Lebanese were killed by Syrian gunfire. They also report frequent Syrian incursions into Lebanese territory.

Refugee Akba Awayed says life on the other side of the border is steadily getting worse.

“The people on the other side have no food, they have nothing,” he said. “No-one can leave or enter. For example, my village of Talkalakh, it’s not Talkalakh anymore it’s a military zone. It’s surrounded on all four sides,” Awayed said.

With shops shuttered and homes abandoned, Wadi Khaled is bracing for more spillover from the Syrian conflict, one seemingly ready to worsen.