VOLUNTEERS PUT A SMILE OF REFUGEE FACES
Shoshana Kedem visits a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon
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