Originally published on The Majalla after my first trip to that remote North-Eastern strip of land called Wadi Khaled in Lebanon…
Forgotten Guests of Lebanon
According to the last UNHCR report on June 28th, there are almost 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but only 24,000 are registered as such and receive assistance. The Syrian refugees and some Lebanese humanitarian organizations supporting them claim 10,000 of them are concentrated in Wadi Khaled, a narrow North-Eastern valley slipping into the ravaged Syrian province of Homs.
Wadi Khaled is populated by poor peasants, who were severely hit by the Syrian uprising, as they used to rely on trade with Syrian neighboring villages. Power supplies are dramatically limited to two hours per day, thus curtailing also the availability of drinkable water pulled from electric wells. “Locals are even poorer than us!” cries out 58 year old Sabaah, a radiant grandmother from the Syrian village of Talkalakh. She is taking care of her three little nephews and paying $100 rent for a desolate two-room flat. “I recently underwent open-heart surgery and I need to pay $100 for the required medicine,” complains Sabaah, “we used to rely on contacts across the Syrian border to receive it, but the intensified clashes made this impossible.” In Wadi Khaled there are pharmacies and four clinics, but the closest hospital is in Tripoli, a trip which could take up to two hours for dirt roads and military checkpoints.
50 year old Ali Hazzuri is a portly butcher from Talkalakh, who pays $150 to live in a stone cattle shed with his family. Guiding me to another room to drink some tea, Ali wears a sardonic smile as he points at the toilet’s sewage flooding their garden. His wife Najda and his friend Ahmad, a taxi driver from Baba ‘Amro (Homs), lament the unbearable Lebanese cost of living: “Our expenses amount to nearly $300 per month, in this country we pay 2000 LBP ($1.5) for a bread loaf, which cost us 500 LBP ($0.3) before the revolution in Syria!”.
The most desperate case I encountered was that of 40 year old Hassan Hussein Bayut, a black-bearded tattooed man from Baba ‘Amro, who lives in a tumbledown overheated garage with his wife Nuhad and their five children. Despite being unemployed, he has to pay 100.000 LBP ($75) per month for his “accommodation” and hasn’t been able to pay the rent for the last five months. His Lebanese landlord wants to turn the garage into a car wash and threatens to throw his belongings in the streets. “Where do I get the money from? I have to pay $100 in medicines and milk for my sons every week,” explains Hassan in a quiet tone, “and I didn’t receive the UNHCR monthly box of food supplies for four months.”
Hassan’s house in Bab ‘Amro was burned to the ground and he lost trace of his brother in Syria six months ago. Like all other Syrians, Hassan is stuck in Wadi Khaled, considered a “guest (Dayf)” by the pro-Syrian Lebanese Government, rather than a refugee (laji). The Lebanese army is deployed around the valley and Syrians risk being deported to their country if caught at a checkpoint. “The Lebanese troops are monitoring us,” says Mohammad from Talkalakh, “and if the Syrian army breaks in to kill us, they wouldn’t intervene.”