Today • • 24 June

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Syrian Refugees: Surviving Winter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley

Lebanon – a once-bustling country where now, even its own citizens are grappling with economic struggles. A country facing a huge financial crisis for the past few years. A country still reeling from the effects of a monumental explosion that happened just over a year ago. 

Even before COVID-19 forced businesses across the country to close, Lebanon’s economy was already in dire straits. Now, Lebanon’s economy worsens by the day. 

Taking all these into consideration, can you imagine the plight of the millions of refugees living in Lebanon? While its own people are struggling to get by, what more are the individuals who do not call the country their homeland and who are not presented with the same rights and opportunities? 

During the late November of 2021, our GER team personally saw the plight of these refugees and we can attest to the urgency of providing aid to these individuals. 

Our team travelled to Bekaa Valley, Lebanon for the first rounds of our Winter Emergency Appeal distributions for the Syrian and Palestinian refugees. When we were there, winter was approaching soon and the locals shared how the winter season can be unrelenting in the Bekaa Valley region, where heavy snow frequently occurs. 

For the Syrian refugees who fled the Syrian Civil War and are currently residing in Lebanon, they remain the most vulnerable group, living a marginalised existence with uncertain futures. They are currently living in limbo, in a country dealing with their own crisis. 

The Bekaa Valley area is littered with tents and smaller camps everywhere. According to statistics, there are one and a half million Syrians in Lebanon and nearing the border, there are more Syrian refugees as compared to Lebanese citizens. 

Mahmoud, 17, a volunteer with local community organisation Rabit Shabeb Saadnayel, shared with us the challenging conditions of the refugee families. 

“The conditions of the refugees are tough, they don’t have much to eat and they are struggling each and every day here”

Mahmoud, Lebanese Volunteer

When we visited the camps, it was difficult to imagine spending every day living in a shelter or a makeshift tent – especially when the harsh winter season comes. 

During our winter aid distribution at Saadnayel Camp, there was a large turnout of families – mostly widows with their young children – who came to collect food aid boxes to last their families for the next few weeks. We were told by the volunteers that there are thousands of Syrian refugee families living in that area alone. We could not help everyone – some were forced to leave empty-handed. 

We also distributed essential items to assist them for the winter season, such as bottles of kerosene that the refugees will use as fuel for their heating materials. We also gave out winter essentials such as blankets and winter clothes for children. 

The children we met were clad in old sweaters covered in sand and dust, and they had very minimal clothing protection to bear the winter cold. It was not easy to look them in the eyes and not have anything that we could give them.

During our trip, we were also blessed with the opportunity of visiting a widow and her family at their home, situated in a orphan camp for widows and children. Hence there were no men living in the camp and male volunteers were not allowed to enter the living quarters. Mdm Asma welcomed us warmly despite the condition of the family – she is raising her six children alone after the passing of her husband.

We saw for ourselves the condition of their living area – it was dark, cold, and the room only had a few carpets, pillows and one heating appliance in the middle of the room. Even though it was only the start of winter, we could feel the cold temperature in the room – we could not imagine how cold it would be in the middle of the winter season. Despite their situation, Mdm Asma chatted with us with a smile, her friendly demeanour making us feel warm and welcome. 

And that was something common that we saw in most of the refugees that we met – their hospitable nature and the strength from within that they possess, and their unrelenting love for the religion that has kept them going. The families and the children expressed joy and appreciation towards us in their own ways, and we too feel empathy and at the same time joy, in being able to share a moment with them and alleviate some of their struggles. 

We would like to invite you, a member of our GER community, to also extend a helping hand to the poverty-stricken communities living in countries that are now struck with the harsh winter season. You will be able to relieve these families from their struggles and provide relief at a time when they need it the most. By contributing to our Winter Emergency Appeal project, you are providing families like Mdm Asma and all the other refugees that we met, with a better future. 

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