Migration

Meet one of Lebanon's smallest Syrian refugee communities

Syria

The Lebanese city of Ashqout near the country's lavish Faraya village ski resorts, houses 42 Syrian refugees who fled Aleppo in 2014. According to refugees in the camp, the UNHCR has not provided them assistance in three years.

0In a small town called Ashqout, not far from one of Lebanon’s most famous and lavish ski resorts in Faraya village, is an informal Syrian refugee settlement.

The camp, in the predominantly Christian region of Mount Lebanon, houses 42 people who fled Aleppo in 2014 to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in the north.

A year later, they decided to move to Ashkout, hoping to find better work opportunities.

“The conditions in the Bekaa were terrible,” Alaa al-Hamidi, one of the Syrian refugees living in the camp, told Al Jazeera, before adding that living among in a smaller community has been “safer”, especially for the women in his family.

“The first camp we arrived at was heavily populated and our women couldn’t move freely or spend time outside the tent,” he said.

While life there may be safer, al-Hamidi said economic conditions are just as bad in Mount Lebanon. Syrian refugees in Lebanon can only obtain work permits to work in the agriculture and construction sectors.

Like the rest of the community, he works in the tomato fields for six months. For the remaining half of the year, the father-of-two waits for the fields to defrost.

“In the summer, we work in the landowner’s tomato fields but during the winter we have no work,” the 26-year-old said.

Working in the fields is the only way the community is able to afford their stay and pay rent for the eight tents that house them.

Ashqout’s refugee community say the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has not been assisting them for the past three years.

Upon moving to the area, they were provided with tarpaulins and wood to support the tents’ structures. But following two almost consecutive winter storms that hit the country last month, residents are demanding new material to renovate, as many of their tents have been damaged by rain and snowfall.

Rateb al-Hamidi, Alaa’s older brother, said his tent collapsed onto his family of four during the first storm, dubbed Storm Norma. The community helped rebuild his shelter but he said more needs to be done to protect the fragile structures from collapsing again.

According to the UNHCR, 574 campsites, housing more than 22,000 people, were affected by Storm Norma.

The tents have either completely collapsed or were flooded with rain and wastewater from nearby septic tanks.

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Ashqout’s 42 Syrian refugees pay off their rent by working for the landowner in nearby tomato fields.

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According to the UNHCR, there are currently 488,000 school-aged Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. More than half of them do not attend classes that are usually provided by NGOs.

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Residents of the camp say they have no work opportunities throughout the winter season.

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Rateb al-Hamidi, a 34-year-old father of two, said he has not received new material needed to renovate his tent which was affected by the storms that hit Lebanon recently.

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Like most of the shelters housing Syrian refugees across Lebanon, these tarpaulin tents are supported by wooden frames. The refugees are barred by the state from upgrading their tents to more permanent structures.

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Floodwater caused many septic tanks to overflow, leading to wastewater seeping into the refugees’ tents.

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“I’m indebted to the grocery store in the area because I take things we need, hoping to pay it all back once we start working in the field again,” said Alaa al-Hamidi, 26, a father of three.

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The camp’s residents say they are not registered or eligible for UNHCR’s cash cards, which are used to purchase food.

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Due to the snow, Rateb has been unable to use his motorcycle. He said he had to walk for 45 minutes to reach the closest bakery to buy bread.

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“We built our own tents, without any help or assistance from any NGOs,” said Hamidi.

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There are more than one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, either living in informal settlements or in incomplete housing units and garages.

Images: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera

Article: Al Jazeera