Story

Refugee Survival in Lebanon

September 22, 2014|

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As the war drags into its fourth year, many Syrians' passports are expiring. They can't stay abroad or travel with invalid documents, but it's dangerous to get them renewed in Damascus. Many refugees pay taxi drivers to smuggle passports into Syria, have family members renew them, then sneak them back out. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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In Bekaa Valley, this Syrian family has four children. Three are sick with thalassemia, a blood disease that causes anemia and stunts growth. The fourth was healthy, but disabled by a bomb two years ago. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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In Bekaa Valley, this Syrian family has four children. Three are sick with thalassemia, a blood disease that causes anemia and stunts growth. The fourth was healthy, but disabled by a bomb two years ago. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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In Bekaa Valley, this Syrian family has four children. Three are sick with thalassemia, a blood disease that causes anemia and stunts growth. The fourth was healthy, but disabled by a bomb two years ago. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Three out of four children in this family were born sick. The fourth is 13 yr-old Nisreen, who was healthy until a bomb hit her two years ago, twisting her feet into permanent disability. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Here's the view from Nisreen's mat, where she sits all day while her siblings go to school. There's a grassroots NGO that offers informal education in town, but the school has stairs that she can't access in her wheelchair. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Here's the view from Nisreen's mat, where she sits all day while her siblings go to school. There's a grassroots NGO that offers informal education in town, but the school has stairs that she can't access in her wheelchair. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Here's the view from Nisreen's mat, where she sits all day while her siblings go to school. There's a grassroots NGO that offers informal education in town, but the school has stairs that she can't access in her wheelchair. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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This is where Nisreen has slept for the last two years, even when it snowed through last winter. Lebanon is undergoing a severe energy crisis, with shortages of water and electricity skyrocketing as 1.5 million refugees flood the already strained population of 4 million. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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The family receives $170 in food assistance each month, but must pay $150 monthly just for the children's medical assistance. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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The family receives $170 in food assistance each month, but must pay $150 monthly just for the children's medical assistance. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Mohamad's team brings $200 to the family this month. They've written their case on a Facebook page—3 kids sick, 1 disabled, insufficient aid. Donors specify which case they are giving to, so when assistance comes, the team brings exactly how much donors gave to the individual or family. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Fatima is 3 years old but underdeveloped - she and three of her siblings have thalassemia, a blood disease that stunts growth, causes anemia and requires monthly blood transfusions. These cost $150 per month, unfunded by aid agencies and unaffordable for this family from Idlib. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Bekaa valley is largely agricultural, with clear skies and sun over rolling hills of grape orchards and olive trees. Beyond the mountains lies Syria. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Bekaa valley is largely agricultural, with clear skies and sun over rolling hills of grape orchards and olive trees. Beyond the mountains lies Syria. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Refugee women from Syria embroider, crochet and sew in Basmeh & Zeitooneh's Shatila workshop. The NGO currently employs 90 women in crafting bags, scarves and cushion cases sold abroad. This gives them income, freedom from NGO aid dependency, and a network of friends. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Refugee women from Syria embroider, crochet and sew in Basmeh & Zeitooneh's Shatila workshop. The NGO currently employs 90 women in crafting bags, scarves and cushion cases sold abroad. This gives them income, freedom from NGO aid dependency, and a network of friends. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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15-year-old Najweh came from Hama three months ago and is working on her first piece. Many Syrians can't afford to live anywhere but the Palestinian camps, but then they can't access the UNRWA schools. In lieu of studying, Najweh is crafting to help the family survive. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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38-year-old Meryem was born a Palestinian refugee in Syria. Now she's a refugee again in Lebanon. Her husband died in the conflict and she has no children. "I used to just sit and cry at home," she says. "But now the people here are like my second family." Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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38-year-old old Meryem was born a Palestinian refugee in Syria. Now she's a refugee again in Lebanon. Her husband died in the conflict and she has no children. "I used to just sit and cry at home," she says. "But now the people here are like my second family." Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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On the last day of Ramadan, the volunteer team organizes a clothing and shoes distribution for Syrian children without fathers. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Each child gets one outfit, a pair of shoes and a dress or set of shirt and pants. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Syrian mothers bring their children to the volunteer team's Ramadan clothing distribution. All come from families without fathers. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Mohamad's team delivers boxes of lahmeh biajine pastries to one of Bekaa's informal tent settlements. The pastries are for iftar, the daily breaking fast meal during Ramadan. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Lebanon has no formal UNHCR camps for refugees from Syria. Instead, many refugees live in makeshift tent settlements on rented plots of land. These settlements are concentrated in the most impoverished areas of Lebanon, like Bekaa Valley, and residents often have little or no access to humanitarian aid. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Lebanon has no formal UNHCR camps for refugees from Syria. Instead, many refugees live in makeshift tent settlements on rented plots of land. These settlements are concentrated in the most impoverished areas of Lebanon, like Bekaa Valley, and residents often have little or no access to humanitarian aid. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Lebanon has no formal UNHCR camps for refugees from Syria. Instead, many refugees live in makeshift tent settlements on rented plots of land. These settlements are concentrated in the most impoverished areas of Lebanon, like Bekaa Valley, and residents often have little or no access to humanitarian aid. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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Lebanon has no formal UNHCR camps for refugees from Syria. Instead, many refugees live in makeshift tent settlements on rented plots of land. These settlements are concentrated in the most impoverished areas of Lebanon, like Bekaa Valley, and residents often have little or no access to humanitarian aid. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

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One refugee makes a circle of plants outside her tent, reminiscent of her garden back in Syria. She's been living here for two years and has to pay a $200 annual residency permit fee. Refugees who can't afford to pay become illegal. They then stay within their camps, afraid of checkpoints and military officers. They also become vulnerable to exploitation and crime, since they will not approach police for fear of detention. Image by Alice Su. Lebanon, 2014.

Lebanon is not bearing its refugee burden well. As the Syrian crisis hurtles through its fourth year, some 1.5 million Syrian refugees are weighing on the 4 million Lebanese population, along with another 40,000 Palestinians from Syria. There are no official refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon. Instead, most people cluster in already impoverished areas like Bekaa Valley, joining the 25 percent of all Lebanese citizens who live on less than $4 a day. Tensions between Lebanese and refugee populations are high, causing violent clashes over competition for employment, education and essential services. Electricity and water are scarce, especially during the summer, and services often inaccessible. Basic needs are unmet and funds are on the decline.

But some refugees are mobilizing to help themselves. In Bekaa Valley, a team of young Syrian volunteers pool donations funded via social media, then deliver critical aid to fellow refugees who can’t access UN and NGO services. In Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp, Syrian social entrepreneurs are training Palestinian and Syrian women to make a living via handicrafts, weaning themselves off dependence on aid. As regional crises worsen, refugees struggle to keep each other alive.