News / Middle East

Syrian Refugees Struggle in Squalid Conditions on Lebanese Border

Henry Ridgwell

A report from the United Nations says there has been a spike in the number of Syrian refugees registering in Lebanon. In the frontier town of Wadi Khaled, hundreds of refugees are sleeping in abandoned buildings close to the Syrian border and surviving with only the most basic facilities.

The abandoned Aabra School on the Lebanon-Syria border, home to 80 Syrian refugees.
The abandoned Aabra School on the Lebanon-Syria border, home to 80 Syrian refugees.

Aabra School sits on a windswept hill overlooking the mountainous border. It is home to 80 refugees from Syria. The building was abandoned years ago. Each dark, damp room is home to one family. Outside it’s often below freezing. Diesel heaters hold off the chill, but pump out choking fumes.

In the day, the men gather to talk about the uprising back home. All have tales of terror and torture. Merha Ibrahim said he escaped with his family after being held for several weeks for attending anti-government protests.

“They would hang us by our arms so our legs were off the ground and we would be swinging in the air. They would also electrocute us all over our bodies,” he said. “I still have marks and scars from that. They also had a method where they made us lie down on a kind of plank of wood. It was in two pieces,” he said, “hinged in the middle, and we were tied to it, our feet and our arms tied together. And then the plank was folded so that our feet were in the air. Then they would start hitting us.”

In the next room, women and infants sit around the diesel stove. Since the refugees arrived last summer, 15 babies have been born inside this school. The mother of a two-week-old boy said it’s too cold and they have no medicine. Charities like The Red Crescent provide food, milk, and drinking water.

The men say they want to earn money to survive and look after their families - but can’t.

“Papers - we have no papers. We want to work but we don’t have papers. We can’t come and go,” said one father.

Map showing flow of refugees into Lebanon and Turkey
Map showing flow of refugees into Lebanon and Turkey

Another man said the Syrian government tries to take revenge on the refugees.

“The only way we can help our people is by talking to journalists and making our stories known,” he said. “And, of course, the regime watches the television, sees what we are doing… two days ago my house got trashed for the second time. Sometimes they threaten to attack our families, our elderly parents.”

A few thousand refugees have made it over from Syria into Lebanon, most of them finding shelter with families or friends. So far the Lebanese government is staying quiet on the issue. But the danger for them is if that trickle turns into a torrent.

With the violence in Syria seemingly worsening by the week, the United Nations’ refugee agency said it’s prepared for more arrivals.

"We have hired a shelter expert from our headquarters to come and assess the current situation and check whether there are more abandoned schools," said Dana Sleiman, who is from the UNHCR. "We have some, there are more common shelters where we could host more people should there be a need.”

Nightfall brings a dull quiet to Aabra School. The car batteries powering the lights soon will run out. The refugees here have escaped the violence. But like Syria, their future seems precarious.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs