From prosperity to living in fear: experiences of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon

From prosperity to living in fear: experiences of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon

Over 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011, seeking safety in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. Millions more are displaced inside, continually moving around the country in a desperate attempt to escape the fighting. But as the violence continues with no sign of peace, hope – and public interest – is fading fast.

People are still suffering eight years on from the start of the Syrian war, and this World Refugee Week we are telling their stories: this time, from Lebanon.

Suffering, even in safety

Syrian refugee *Jomaa is pictured in the doorway of the home he shares with his large family and their cousins after being moved by Concern as they were in danger. Photo: Mary Turner
Syrian refugee *Jomaa is pictured in the doorway of the home he shares with his family.

In Syria, Jomaa* owned a factory with his cousin, Ahmed*, a mechanic. He spent his days at work and in the evening would return home to spend time with his family.

However, all this changed overnight. Jomaa’s house was destroyed while he and his family were inside.

I first thought that all of my children were dead. I started to look and search in the sand and dust for them one by one

Jomaa*

It was around 1am when their house was hit. In a panic, Jomaa and his family rushed to his father’s house, but it was not until they were already on their way that he realised his daughter, Zaid*, was missing. Jomaa went back to look for her and found her trapped under the kitchen sink. “I was expecting death”, he said.

Jomaa’s house was destroyed, yet somehow Jomaa and his family survived. The next day they escaped to Lebanon.

The conditions in the home of Syrian refugees *Jomaa and his wife *Wouhoud and their family live. Photo: Mary Turner
The conditions in the home of Syrian refugees *Jomaa and his wife *Wouhoud and their family live
Syrian refugees *Alya, aged 5, and her cousin *Sultan, aged 4, are pictured in the home they share with their family and cousins after being moved by Concern as they were in danger. Photo: Mary Turner
Two young refugees pictured in their home after being moved by Concern as they were in danger.

However, despite having reached safety in Lebanon, Jomaa and his family are still suffering.

Zaid, who is now 16, broke her thighbone during the ordeal and had to have steel bars fitted to mend her leg. The bars now need removing but they cannot afford it and she is in constant pain. Sham*, Jomaa’s 11-year-old daughter, is completely deaf after an explosion went off next to her. His children no longer go to school as they cannot afford it, and two of his grandchildren are sick with fever, vomiting and chest pain.

We were living in prosperity and paradise. Men had dignity and nothing was missing. Now everything has changed. Before the war, I had no fears – I used to worry about the colour of my kitchen tiles. Now, I fear for my family.

Jomaa*

Concern is working to make Jomaa’s and his family’s lives as comfortable as possible whilst they are taking refuge in an unoccupied, unfinished building in Lebanon. Concern refurbished the building to make it more comfortable, installing doors, windows, bathroom facilities and a water tank. While Concern can help provide a roof over their heads, we can also begin to support them to ease the emotional trauma Jomaa and his family are still suffering because of the war.

I miss everything: my neighbourhood, my factory, my family, my country. We were living in peace and love.

Jomaa*

Losing everything: again, again, and again

Syrian refugee *Dibeh, 41, and her children *Bilal, 10, *Abdel, 7, and *Omar 8, are pictured in the garage where they are currently living. Photograph by Mary Turner
Syrian refugee *Dibeh and her children pictured in the garage where they are currently living.

Pregnant mum of four Dibeh* lives in a garage in Northern Lebanon, close to the Syrian border. She has lived here with her husband and children for a year, but is about to move again. Why? Because even away from the horrors of the conflict in Syria, their lives are still at risk.

An impossible decision

“I was very comfortable in Syria”, Dibeh* tells us. That was, until her house was bombed and her one-year-old daughter was seriously injured. Knowing how dangerous it was, Dibeh had to make the difficult decision of whether or not to move her, but they could not stay there in direct danger.

Injured, scared and desperate, the family moved the little girl and they fled to Lebanon, longing for safety.

We just got into a car. We did not know whose it was, we just needed to escape. We were very afraid but thank God we arrived in Lebanon.

Dibeh*

However, after ten days in hospital her daughter sadly died from her injuries.

Syrian refugee *Dibeh, 41, and her children *Bilal, 10, *Abdel, 7, and *Omar 8, are pictured in the garage where they are currently living. Photograph by Mary Turner
Syrian refugee *Dibeh and her children pictured in the garage where they are currently living.
Syrian refugee *Abdel, 7 under a blanket in the garage he and his family are currently living. Photo: Mary Turner
Syrian refugee *Abdel, 7 under a blanket in the garage he and his family are currently living
Syrian refugee *Dibeh and her children leave the garage where they are currently living. Photo: Mary Turner
Syrian refugee *Dibeh and her children leave the garage where they are currently living.
Syrian refugee *Dibeh, folds blankets with her sons which have been donated by Concern. Photo: Mary Turner
Syrian refugee *Dibeh, folds blankets with her sons which have been donated by Concern.
Syrian refugees *Omar,8, and *Bilal, 10, are pictured in the garage which they are currently living, in Northern Lebanon. Photograph by Mary Turner
Syrian refugees, *Omar and *Bilal, in the garage where they are currently living, Lebanon.

Difficult past, uncertain future

Dibeh is in her ninth month of pregnancy. However, instead of the usual excitement that comes with brining a baby into the world, Dibeh is concerned: “I have nothing to give it a good life.”

Dibeh and her family have struggled since arriving in Lebanon. At first, they lived in informal tented settlements (ITS) which she describes as a “red death”.

My children’s clothes were always wet and bugs and insects infested our tent. I was bitten on my neck by a scorpion. I also couldn’t pay the rent there and I still have the debts to pay off.

Dibeh*

Like Jomaa and his family, Concern is supporting Dibeh and her family to live a more comfortable life while the war rages on. Concern helped them move from the ITS to the garage, and there Concern put in a window, a bathroom and a basic kitchen, and provided them with insulation kits and blankets.

Without the blankets, it is like being without clothes. We were always getting flu, but the blankets keep us warm.

Dibeh*

A car, but no body

*Kafya (30) , with her children *Azzam, 11, and *Lara, 10, at the home which they live in and which is being refurbished by Concern, in Northern Lebanon. Photo: Mary Turner
Kafya* with her children at the home which they live in and which is being refurbished by Concern.

Mum of three, Kafya*, was married for 15 years in Syria. “I used to be very happy living with my husband”, who worked as a driver. One day, however, her husband’s car was found, but without him in it. He simply went to work and never came back. She does not know what happened to her husband and probably never will.

Not only did Kafya* lose her husband, but she lost her house and her freedom too. Back home in Syria, the family had their own house with three bedrooms, a kitchen and a cellar. Here in Lebanon, Kafya* and her children share a derelict building with no doors or windows, and use the same room as both the kitchen and bathroom. Anyone can walk into these flats, and no one, particularly the women, feels safe.

There is always someone looking in and we don’t have any privacy. Because I do not have a front door, anyone could walk in. I’m afraid.

Kafya*

Concern is putting in windows and doors, which is easing some of Kafya’s distress.

I am very happy that Concern are helping us. [Their support] also means I can now afford food and clothes for my children.

Kafya*

However, despite the improvements, all Kafya wants to do is go home and see her husband; a wish sadly none of us can grant.

The stories have not ended yet

You may not be able to bring Kafya and her husband back together or ease the emotional and physical trauma the Syrian war has had on millions of people. However, you can help raise awareness of the consequences of the crisis and funds to help support organisations like Concern provide life-saving assistance, for both Syrian refugees living in Lebanon like Jomaa, Dibeh and Kafya, and some of the world’s poorest people.

*names changed for security reasons

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