Another day of uncertainty is one too many

24-year-old Khalid has completed an accredited training course on plumbing supported by Concern. He hopes to start working soon as an apprentice so that he can provide for his family, including his two-year-old daughter Melissa. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Khalid, pictured with his daughter, Melissa, has been supported by Concern. Photo: Darren Vaughan

It is no exaggeration to say that the Syrian people we met last week in northern Lebanon are living on a knife edge. Even before embarking on their journey, they had already experienced enough - fear, pain, loss and displacement. It might be relatively safe now, but their todays and tomorrows are still consumed by uncertainty.

They need no reminder that the crisis is now in its tenth year. Some of those we visited in the Akkar region have been here for seven years. They live in makeshift tarpaulin-draped tents or in stark concrete buildings, originally constructed to house chickens. We met one elderly couple who inhabit a petrol station storeroom. It is a tough existence.

Wahid (66) and Sania (56) live in a petrol station storeroom. Concern has helped install windows, a toilet and electricity supply and negotiated a rent freeze for 12 months. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Wahid and Sania live in a petrol station storeroom. Photo: Darren Vaughan

Concern has helped reinforce and refurbish these temporary dwellings by providing sheeting and wood, and installing windows, doors, clean water, toilets and sewage tanks - all ways to make life more bearable and keep dignity and self respect alive in such bleak conditions. We also negotiate rent freezes and reductions. Even then, circumstances can overwhelm. One family told us they had moved seven times. How long will it be before we have to pack up again, they ask.

Latrines built by Concern on an informal settlement for Syrian refugees. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Latrines built by Concern on an informal settlement for Syrian refugees. Photo: Darren Vaughan

Winter is almost at an end and most have made it through another year. But even that is something they do not take for granted - their survival dependent on how disruptive the snow, how destructive the wind, how freezing the temperatures.

We met one family whose tent was flooded a few weeks ago because it is situated on arable land at the bottom of a hill. Why live here, we ask? They are not able to afford an alternative on higher ground. All we can do is provide them with mattresses and blankets to meet their immediate needs. They live in dread of the next big downpour.

On top of all that, the current economic situation in Lebanon is pushing people – both Lebanese, and Syrian refugees – to their limits. Food prices have soared. One young family say that it is three months since they last ate meat, and now the cost of vegetables and fruit, which grow in abundance here, have tripled in a few weeks. Today, their meal will consist of cheap staples like rice and oats and little else.

Mona is caring for 11-year-old Bashir after he was orphaned. They are not related but share the same family name. Concern provided a shelter kit to help them resettle. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Mona is caring for 11-year-old Bashir after he was orphaned. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Former primary school teacher Maha attends a women’s group organised by Concern to discuss their shared experiences. Photo: Darren Vaughan
Former primary school teacher Maha attends a women’s group organised by Concern to discuss their shared experiences. Photo: Darren Vaughan

The Syrian people who live here in northern Lebanon are resilient. But you wonder just how much more they can take. Battered by circumstances, the elements, political manoeuvring, a fluctuating economy - so much seems to be against them. They move, they resettle, they find ways to survive - and on it goes. It has become a relentless cycle, facing what comes their way and making the most of it.

As our time in Lebanon ends, we leave the hills of Akkar and return to the capital. We walk through the peaceful back streets of this ancient city away from the boutiques and flashy hotels, past old pockmarked buildings. Beirut was once one of the most bombed places on earth - an accolade also reserved for my home city, Belfast. The images from more than 30 years ago of shelled Beirut hotels and ruined streets, of people fleeing for their lives, of human suffering linger in my memory. I can only hope that peace will eventually prevail in Syria and its grand cities. For the people I met last week, another day of uncertainty is one too many.

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