Life under hardest conditions: Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Photo: Nadja Wohlleben
“Facets of war” – Four years of civil war in Syria
For four years already, the Syrian conflict, which is getting ever more brutal and desperate, has forced its population to flee the country. Far away from their homes and cities, the Syrians are obliged to observe the destruction of their home country, once the cultural center of the Middle East. Nobody can say when they will be able to return to Syria. In fact, they rather ask about whether they will be able to return one day. Thus, meanwhile nearly four million Syrians are living in the neighboring countries Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, partly under inhuman conditions.
What does such a life do to a person? To a mother, who has left her husband and sons in the fights? To a child, whose future has been taken away by a greater conflict? What does the existence of millions of refugees do to the small county Lebanon? When has the absolute limit been reached?
The new humedica series “Facets of war” focuses on these questions, lends the refugees a face and explains the clout of a conflict of this dimension. To start with, there is a report of humedica coordinator Steffi Gentner from Lebanon. As head of the medical aid measures for the Syrian refugees in the East of the country, she is looking at the political and social structures of Lebanon, which are groaning under the responsibility for the immigrants and is drafting the picture of a state the absolute and reasonable limit of which has long been passed.
Lebanon: A country at the edge of a breakdown
What we have learned of the Lebanese civil war and the ongoing conflict in Syria
“In order to be able to sum up the current situation in Lebanon, the following explanations are based on the ideas of David Miliband, head of the help organization IRC, which he had formulated in the article “What we didn’t learn from Lebanon’s civil war”, written for the Arab news channel Al Jazeera.
In the 1970s and 1980s a civil war has raged in Lebanon, claiming 150,000 lives over 15 years. Driving through Beirut today, you still can see the traces of the bullets in some buildings, impressing but at the same time warning. Even if the country has been at a political standstill for more than a year now, due to missing Parliament elections and to presidential vacancy, it is one of the more stable states in the region.
But because of the flow of meanwhile far more than one million Syrian refugees, the existential question is now how this country will be able to develop sustainably or how it can survive unscathed despite the fact that one person out of four is a refugee.
At the end of February of this year I took over the position as a coordinator of the humedica emergency assistance project in Lebanon. Thanks to my predecessor, Susanne Carl and the local teams on site as well as the voluntary field team members from Germany, the help for the Syrian refugees could be expanded continually. Thanks to the support of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the help measures could be renewed for one more year.
Especially in the western public opinion, Lebanon is regarded as a dangerous country. Since my arrival here, however, I have rather got the impression of the attested resilience of the local people. Regardless if it concerns their poverty, their wealth or their pride. It is this strength which has shaped and kept together a country like Lebanon, with its 18 recognized religious communities and a great poverty divide.
The however existing political and social tensions are not going to diminish with the influx of refugees. Also the infrastructure like water supply, housing and the education and health system are more and more reaching the edge of breakdown. These problems are becoming quite evident in the informal tent settlements, which should provide temporary shelter for the Syrian refugees and where humedica and other humanitarian actors are assuring the basic medical care. As the Palestinian refugee camps after Nakba have existed from 1948 to today, the Syrian camps have now willfully been installed in an informal way.
New administrative measures concerning visa or working permits usually result in tightening already existing regulations and hold the danger of forcing the refugees in hiding. A look at the figures doesn’t give much hope, neither. Up to now, only 18 percent of the estimated funds needed for this year’s support of the refugees have been generated.
The existential question is now how to handle the new population of Syrian refugees. There is no home for them to go to in Syria. There is no sign of the war ending and that’s why, in this fifth year of crisis, the emergency help programs have now moved to development programs. And in fact there is work to be done to prevent the export of fighting by jihadist groups from Syria into Lebanon.
As long as this war continues, which until March 2015 has made nearly 50 percent of the population homeless, which has destroyed 4,000 schools, 1,500 places of worship, 290 cultural buildings and half of the biggest Syrian cities, a new dimension of humanitarian aid is needed. Children must be able to go to school, for not becoming a lost generation. The youngest ones know nothing but war.
Their parents must be integrated in the local economic system as contributors. Especially since it has been proved that humanitarian efforts have a positive economic influence: the study of a UN project, which has provided 90,000 refugee families in the Bekaa valley with 100 dollars per month during the hard winter, arrived at the conclusion that of each dollar given to the refugees, 2.13 dollars went into the local economy at the same time.
An economic net profit and a success story which braves the argument that the Syrian refugees take away the Lebanese jobs. Even those who have another opinion on this subject, must agree with the fact that both population groups are part of the same economy at the moment and that they are constructing the future of a common country together.
And this situation is not new for both, Syrians and Lebanese. Already before the outbreak of war, many refugees had regularly worked in Lebanon as farm workers. In the past, the Lebanese economy has been dependent on Syrian workforce and it still is today.
In the light of the 40th anniversary of the start of the civil war in Lebanon and the fourth anniversary of the conflict in Syria it is important for all protagonists to learn from the past. Or as David Miliband puts it: “As the Syrian crisis becomes background music to the headlines of war in Iraq and Yemen, it is vital not to lose sight of a simple truth: Humanitarian misery becomes a source of political instability if it is allowed to fester.”
Since 2012 humedica has realized medical help for Syrian refugees in the east of Lebanon. This is work which hardly finds any support by private donators, because of the duration of the conflict and the lacking media momentum. Please become part of this important help and support the Syrian refugees with a directed donation. Thank you very much!