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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs