29 April 2017
Li Chin is a go-getter with a passion for travelling and exploration. It is not easy to meet other great travellers who remain in touch given how easy it is for people to part ways. I hope this is only seemingly transient. Travelling is one of those “make or break” scenarios and I’m sure we will have some laughs along the way. She along with Kenneth (India/ Mongolia post) are the coolest “sister and brother traveller team” with a heart of gold. They both supported the Pakistan Master Ayub Charity and now, Li Chin and I are set to visit a Syrian Refugee Camp. Before the drive towards the camp, Li Chin stopped by a supermarket and stocked up on food.
Since these Refugee camps are under the care of UNHCR and a combination of other international agencies, arrangements for visits require notifications. Well structured with close monitoring, Lebanon’s charity chapter will be the second time where a visit was paid to the refugee camps.
Unlike Nepal where I taught lessons and cooked for people recovering from the devastation of the earthquake, things with the camps in Lebanon have the potential to go wrong if it is just a straight “walk in”. Prior to the trip, I called UNHCR. Calls were left unanswered then after multiple attempts, I was told by a lady ” Look, if you want to visit, you can. Just go.” And that is what we did. International agencies and NGOs support the area from relief items to health, education, food security, shelter, child protection and much more.
Khaled, our very knowledgeable host drove us towards our destination and told us a couple of things about the refugee situation in his country. He said: “Syria is right next door so we have Syrians coming to find work. Before the Syrian war, there was freedom of movement. However, there are increasing number of refugees pouring into Lebanon so since 2015, visa is needed for those from Syria. ”
Lebanon is home to many refugees. How so? The country’s involvement with wars and geographical location. Figures in 2012 showed that in total, there are over 1.6 million asylum seekers and refugees (26% of the total population). The majority (1.1 million) are Syrians with around 440,000 from Palestine (left over from the three Arab-Israeli Wars). The country is still recovering from the scars left behind by previous turmoils so resources are limited, economy remains intact but fragile and issues such as unemployment, healthcare and education remains important to the people of Lebanon.
Many countries have little choice but to accept refugees especially if you are right next door. The challenges with this influx of newcomers is a financial and economical one along with strains on resources. Competition in the labour market saw unemployment doubling (reached 20% in 2014). While 71% of refugees live in poverty, locals are also affected.
From 2012 to 2014, public spending increased by $1 billion with losses totalling $7.5 biliion. The Central Bank placed an annual price tag on expenditures spent on the Syrian refugees – total $4.5 billion. It would be wrong to think that Lebanon has to pay it all by themselves since international organisation do offer financial backing however, the situation is real and strains are being felt.
The latest 2016 figure shows that 938,656 ppl lives in th area as compared to 565,877 ppl in June 2015. In 2016, 39% or 365,555 are registered Syrian refugees while in 2015, that figure was 274,412. In one year, the region saw an increase of 91,143 refugees from Syria (7595 ppl per month).
Wari in the village of Torbol is located half way between Zahle and Baalbek. Located in the Beqaa Valley which is East of the country, the region shares a long border with Syria which means that most of the Syrian Refugee Camps are found in Beqaa.
Two governorates form the Beqaa Valley (Bekaa and Baalbek/Hermel). Masnaa is the largest official border crossing in Lebanon and the entry point into Bekaa. While the Al Qaa border has been closed, one more unofficial border crossing was recorded in 2016 as compared with 2015. Fragile state of resources and services in the Valley results in competition over employment, public services and much more.
After some time of dispelling suspicions (we are not aid workers or reporters), we were allowed into the “HQ” of the camp.
Run by a husband-wife team, the family along with their kids oversee the resource allocations and functioning of the camps. Very nice and cheerful people, they allowed us to sit inside with them and accepted the tiny supplies that we could carry. They started allocating some of our supplies and we watched her younger son selling snacks from the local store (also within the HQ).
It was a hot day so kids gathered to buy ice cream and other goodies. It is a fully stocked and functioning shop. Tents and camps surrounds the store, the main water pump is directly in front of the HQ and several garbage bins stood along the side of the settlement. Clothes hung from the various tents, chooks ran amongst the camps, people carried on with their daily lives….this is one of the better camps in Lebanon. Equipped with collective shelters, the children attends school in a nearby town and there are public hospitals available. Unlike other camps that are more in need of support, Wari is functioning and maintained by the refugees. The sight of a shop and supplies was interesting and nothing like what I saw in Nepal where locals were left to their own devices.
After lingering for some time, we waved goodbye and made our way to the last destination of the day: Baalbek.
Grateful is how we felt. Once again, I was taught positivity through the kids’ genuine smiles.
Photos about Lebanon’s Refugee situation taken from UNHCR website.
Charity combined with travelling is a great way to give something back to the world. One does not need to be from that country to feel compelled to do something.