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

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora