Written by: Adeline Guerra, Regional Campaigns and Communications adviser
Children hide behind water tanks while clothes dry outside flimsy tents in the Mediterranean sunshine. We have arrived at a refugee settlement in the Lebanese Bekaa valley. Here, it’s the little things that matter: an oil lamp proudly brandished by a 65-year-old Syrian woman who has welcomed us in her tent. A TV placed in the corner of an otherwise empty “home”. A jerrican of water and some corrugated iron for makeshift toilets shared by the 40 families living here.
In a thin fabric fortune fortress, elders recall the day they left Syria. Not far behind the nearby mountains of the Bekaa, Syria is now left to the imagination or else seen through pictures of destruction held on precious mobile phones, people’s last connection to a lost land. Only what is recalled as the glorious past brings some sentiment of joy and sorrow to their faces.
It was a hot day early June when colleagues and I visited communities where Oxfam has been programming for the past few years. The refugees we met were struggling to cope with loss, grief and the daunting feeling of not belonging. Yet, despite facing insurmountable challenges, most Syrian refugees are still living day by day, making it work because they have to, carrying on despite the relentless news of further death and annihilation in their home country.
Those of us living outside the region do not see the scale and the impact of human suffering generated by the crisis. Our Oxfam colleagues working in Lebanon, inside Syria and in Jordan hear of such stories every day. While every aspect of daily life is difficult, including the challenge to find work, the lack of education for children , and the strain on local populations living alongside refugees, all have been trying to cope with this reality. What it means for sharing resources, living alongside each other is not easy in the current context. Communities, Oxfam and partners are working towards fostering a further sense of solidarity, while populations are facing serious strains on infrastructure, public services, such as water and sanitation, as well as access to health care and work.
Truth is that no one ever thinks they will be called a refugee. But behind each faceless number is a life. To date, 1.2 million Syrians are living in Lebanon. Almost 4 million have fled Syria, while 7.6 million are displaced inside the country. Countless lives suspended in a timeless await.
In Ghazzeh, a small town 90 minutes East of Beirut where refugees outnumber local residents, we visited a “cash for work” programme funded by the Italian Cooperation, and run in collaboration with the local municipality. A dozen people , both Lebanese and Syrian refugees, work daily in the Gazzeh Solid Waste Management facility, sifting through up to 8 tonnes of waste. Despite the smell of waste, people are smiling at the thought of being busy, feeling part of a team, and most of all earning money to support their families.
This past week, Oxfam and partners in Lebanon, Jordan, Italy, Quebec and Wales held a variety of events to mark World Refugee Day, bringing Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians under one roof in a fun, friendly atmosphere, which also marks the approach of Ramadan. With these events, we hope to continue reminding governments of their responsibility to do their fairshare for Syrians, who are experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, by allocating funds to the humanitarian response to allow more cash for work activities such as those described in the Bekaa Valley and supporting long-term development funding for neighbouring countries as well as welcome vulnerable refugees through resettlement programmes that are commensurate with the scale of the crisis.