Shoshana Ke­dem vis­its a Syr­ian refugee camp in Le­banon

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - Shoshana@7days.ae

Four years ago Yousef Jaffa had a home in the lush Homs coun­try­side in west­ern Syria and a fruit­ful tai­lor­ing busi­ness to sup­port his fam­ily. To­day he stares at the walls of a cramped hut in a muddy camp on the edge of the Bekaa Val­ley in eastern Le­banon, near the Syr­ian bor­der.

“Life here is de­fined by bore­dom and frus­tra­tion. We had a house be­fore, we had land,” he says, show­ing a pic­ture on his phone of green fields and a pump gush­ing wa­ter forth in the moun­tain­ous city of Al Qu­sair, which over­looks the Le­banese moun­tains.

“Now we all live in this small tent made of cloth and wood,” he adds, try­ing to main­tain his pride. “It’s not com­fort­able and it’s prone to catch fire.”

Many of the 1.1 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees in Le­banon live in camps like Jarahiya, one of the many tented clus­ters in the Bekaa Val­ley.

Yousef shows me around his low-ceilinged wooden hut draped in can­vas printed with the blue logo of the United Na­tions Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The hut has a tiny kitchen and dark liv­ing room fur­nished with worn cush­ions on the ground and a TV, where his nine chil­dren, preg­nant wife and mother spend their time.

His fam­ily strug­gles to make ends meet on his mea­gre liv­ing as a tai­lor mak­ing and mend­ing clothes for fam­i­lies in the camp. He works on a sewing ma­chine that sits among drap­ery in a tiny work­shop at­tached to his hut.

He said: “Work is hard to find but when there are op­por­tu­ni­ties I work hard but can’t man­age to earn more than about 3,000LL (Dhs7) per day.

“It’s a ma­jor strug­gle try­ing to pro­vide for my fam­ily. The in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions help and give some food and bread but our lives aren’t how they were be­fore.”

His three-year-old daugh­ter Arsi­nat clings to her mother, hun­gry and grumpy from a nap. She was born in the camp and knows noth­ing of the fam­ily’s for­mer life.

Yousef and his fam­ily fled his home in the be­sieged city of Homs four years ago, cross­ing into Le­banon il­le­gally in a minibus, at the Bekaa bor­der town of Ch­taura, a trans­port hub with Syria teem­ing with red Da­m­as­cus num­ber plates.

“The war started in Homs and the coun­try­side around it where I live in 2012,” said Yousef.

“There was shelling from the gov­ern­ment and fight­ing be­tween them and the armed groups. I sensed that the vi­o­lence was about to in­crease be­fore the ma­jor bat­tle erupted there, so I took my whole fam­ily and left.

“Some peo­ple stayed, many left and went through un­be­liev­able hard­ships, sleep­ing un­der trees out in na­ture, things like that.”

With the war show­ing no signs of abat­ing he says he hopes to build a bet­ter life away from the camp and from Homs - a key bat­tle­ground that has long been re­duced to ashes and rub­ble.

“I hope to travel abroad, to an­other coun­try to live and work,” added Yousef. “The UN is the party that of­fers names to for­eign coun­try for asy­lum re­quests, and we hope that our case will be raised and we can live abroad.”

Yousef’s hopes for the fu­ture are pre-oc­cu­pied by his ba­sic needs and fears for his fam­ily’s safety. “Our main am­bi­tion is just safety. We just want to live and be safe.”

‘Work is hard to find. It’s a ma­jor strug­gle to pro­vide for my fam­ily.’ – Syr­ian refugee Yousef Jaffa

CRAMPED: Yousef Jaffa’s fam­ily in their wooden hut at the camp in the Bekaa Val­ley in Le­banon; (far right) the hut’s ex­te­rior and the kitchen

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