TRIPOLI, LEBANON — As Syrian peace talks get underway in Montreux, Switzerland, refugees from the conflict are expressing skepticism about the likely success of the negotiations.
At a medical clinic in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, more than 100 Syrian refugees, many with crying babies in their arms, are waiting to see a doctor. They are pre-occupied with the daily challenges of living far from home.
They are desperate for good fortune and are hopeful the U.S.-Russian-brokered talks will bring peace to Syria. But most are full of pessimism.
Sabr, a 38-year-old mother of two sons who were due to join the Syrian army before the family fled their home in Idlib province, expressed skepticism a solution to the Syrian crisis would be found.
“We have heard about the Geneva [Montreux] talks but we personally don’t believe something is going to happen out of this. But we have hope and we really want to have hope,” she admitted.
Central to the negotiations is the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian leader has refused to relinquish power, but Western leaders have insisted that a peaceful resolution of the conflict depends upon it.
Faridah, a 51-year-old mother lives near a district in Tripoli where there has been a spillover of violence from Syria’s civil war, with almost daily firefights between Lebanese supporters and opponents of the Assad government. She says there can be no return to her home country while Assad remains in power.
“If they are not going to remove Bashar al-Assad and now we have lost everything, all our houses, what are we going to do, are we going to go back? We lost our parents, our brothers, what are we going to do back there?” asked a skeptical Faridah.
Syrian refugee Ahmed, who is at the clinic with his pregnant wife and sick baby daughter, says he does not care whether or not Assad stays in power.
“I personally don’t care about those talks. All I care about is that there will be peace and no more bombardments and we can go back to our normal life where I can have my children living normally," he said. "I have no relationship to politics whatsoever. I don’t care if it is Bashar staying or not.”
A few kilometers from the clinic and closer to Tripoli’s seaport, Syrian refugees occupying a dismal and crowded shantytown of lean-tos and hastily built breezeblock houses are as desperate about their lives - and as divided over Assad’s fate.
Omar, 23, is visiting relatives, but says he frequently returns to his home in Homs, one of the hardest-hit towns in the war. He says most of his neighbors there just want the war to end on any terms.
“People are talking there and they hope it will carry some positive effects because the people want the situation to go calmer because people can no longer find a living," he explained. "Whether al-Assad remains and the whole regime remains or changes, people want the calm and that is what they expect of Geneva 2.”
For the families of those fighting the government, return will likely prove impossible until Bashar al-Assad is gone.