News / Middle East

Syrians Take Refuge in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

A young Syrian boy looks apprehensive as he awaits a vaccination in Arsal, Lebanon, Sept. 29, 2012. (VOA/J. Neumann)
A young Syrian boy looks apprehensive as he awaits a vaccination in Arsal, Lebanon, Sept. 29, 2012. (VOA/J. Neumann)
Jeff Neumann
As refugees continue streaming out of Syria to escape the violence of the civil war, tens of thousands of them are taking shelter in Lebanon, many in towns like this one near the frontier in the Bekaa Valley.

On a recent day, lines of laundry are draped across the school playground and aid workers mingle with children and their parents in the hallways of nearby buildings. The main topic of conversation for most is where their next meal is coming from and where they might be living in the coming weeks.
 
Numbers of Syrian Refugees, by Country

  • Turkey: 138,401
  • Lebanon: 133,634
  • Jordan: 123,747  
  • Iraq: 60,307

Source: UNHCR
The latest United Nations figures estimate the overall number of Syrian refugees at more than 250,000, and of those, more than 70,000 are believed to be living in Lebanon. The number here is uncertain because many are afraid to register with official agencies out of fear of retribution due to the close ties between the governments in Damascus and Beirut.

Syrians seeking refuge in Lebanon face a number of challenges. Almost weekly, Syrian troops make brief cross-border incursions into Lebanon.  Syrian Army units frequently shell Lebanese territory, killing dozens, mainly Lebanese civilians but Syrian refugees as well. This town, just under 10 kilometers from the Syrian frontier, has even seen Syrian air force attacks nearby.

Despite the pressure from Syria, the refugees have been getting along well - so far - with their new Lebanese neighbors. Some families in Arsal have even opened their homes to refugees.

The latest arrivals, however, are putting a strain on local resources. The cost of living has soared in recent months and that could lead to friction.

Lebanon has a troubled history with refugees. Its long and traumatic civil war was in part brought on by Palestinian militants using Lebanon as a base for attacks against Israel and rival Lebanese militias. Many Lebanese fear renewed violence as the civil war in Syria has already played out in bloody outbursts in Lebanese cities and border areas this year.

Refugees strain resources

The head of the Arsal municipality, Ali al-Hujairi, says his town cannot handle many more arrivals and that the ones already living here have strained its limited resources. Al-Hujairi also concedes that Free Syrian Army rebel fighters are taking shelter in the town.
 
"I cannot hide the fact that [the refugees] support the revolution,” he said. “Some of them go to fight, too. All of Arsal supports the revolution."

Syrian refugees, who fled the violence in the Syrian town of Qusair, sit at a temporary home, in the hillside town of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, March 5, 2012.Syrian refugees, who fled the violence in the Syrian town of Qusair, sit at a temporary home, in the hillside town of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, March 5, 2012.
x
Syrian refugees, who fled the violence in the Syrian town of Qusair, sit at a temporary home, in the hillside town of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, March 5, 2012.
Syrian refugees, who fled the violence in the Syrian town of Qusair, sit at a temporary home, in the hillside town of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, March 5, 2012.
​The Lebanese government had previously helped with medical care for Syrians through the High Relief Commission, run through the office of Prime Minister Najib Mikati. But in August, it announced that state funds had run out. The Cabinet is still debating a new budget, meaning an influx of new funds will be delayed further, if approved at all.

A worker from the international aid group, Médecins Sans Frontières, described the emotional state of the refugees as "desperate," saying roughly 30 percent of the displaced Syrians here suffer from anxiety, depression and psychosomatic disorders.
 
"The majority of the time, from what we are seeing, they don't feel secure after fleeing Syria," said the aid worker, who asked not to be named.
 
About 85 percent of secondary health care in the Bekaa region is being covered by the Qatari Red Crescent, according to figures provided by the Beirut office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
 
Recently, Médecins Sans Frontières workers were busy vaccinating children in one of the Arsal schools serving as a temporary home for displaced Syrians. A young boy named Mohammed cried as he waited with his mother for a vaccination at the school in Arsal: "He used to be named Bashar," after President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, his mother said with a wide grin.

A father living with his wife and five young children in an unfinished home in Arsal said he had not been able to work since arriving several months ago. His story is not unusual.

The little money that most refugees carried out with them is completely gone or running out. Assistance from aid groups and local residents is limited.
 
As one example, a Médecins Sans Frontières report issued last month said, "Those living in the Bekaa Valley appear to have twice as much access to drinking water [as in other areas], meaning it is likely they purchase it, adding burden to already limited finances."

Living conditions stressful

Some displaced families set up tent camps in the yards of sympathetic Lebanese. Others moved into unfinished buildings and construction sites.  But the living conditions in many locations are dire, and with the onset of cooler weather fast approaching, open-air shelters in this town at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range will offer little protection from the elements.

For now, the people of Arsal are doing what they can. The municipality chief, al-Hujairi, warns of a desperate situation that is bound to get worse. He notes that the surrounding villages are primarily Shiite Muslim and support the Assad regime, making it nearly impossible for refugees to leave town. When they do, they are frequently attacked.
 
"They [the refugees] have not stopped coming across, and we receive no help from the Lebanese government," al-Hujairi said. "Of course we will help all of them, but how many more can we take?"

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Muhd Nur Alalawi from: Nigeria
October 09, 2012 7:36 AM
The Syrians should blame themselves for their predicament because they call for it, their government is doing well for them but being ungrateful people they decided to revolt aginst their leaders for just no reason.

Therefore what ever happened to you I believe you people deserve it, so please down your arms and embrace dialogue thats the best way for you,

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs