Fam­i­lies say their good­byes as refugees be­gin jour­ney home

Syr­i­ans ei­ther face high rent and lit­tle work, or leave rel­a­tives to re­turn to dam­aged houses

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Abby Sewell

BEIRUT: In a park­ing lot out­side Camille Chamoun Sports City Sta­dium in south Beirut, a small clus­ter of fam­i­lies gath­ered next to a pair of buses with piles of bags and house­hold goods wait­ing to be loaded on board, and said their good­byes.

In the lat­est in a se­ries of group re­turns of refugees to Syria or­ga­nized by Le­banese Gen­eral Se­cu­rity, a to­tal of 1,230 re­turnees were bused to Syria from dif­fer­ent points in Le­banon Thurs­day, of­fi­cials said, about 600 re­turn­ing from Tripoli alone. But the group that gath­ered in Beirut was small – only about 40 peo­ple.

Most of the Syr­i­ans pre­par­ing to board the bus were leav­ing fam­ily mem­bers be­hind in Le­banon, some tem­po­rar­ily, and some in­def­i­nitely.

And many would not be able to re­turn to their own houses, which have been dam­aged or de­stroyed in the war. Still, those who spoke to The Daily Star said they were ready to re­turn to their coun­try after years liv­ing as refugees.

Malaz Ajam said a tear­ful good­bye to her mother as she pre­pared to board the bus with her hus­band and two young chil­dren. Her par­ents, brother and sis­ter-in-law would stay be­hind, at least for the time be­ing.

Ajam said that after five years in Le­banon, the high cost of liv­ing and scant work for her hus­band, a tai­lor, led her fam­ily to re­turn to Aleppo.

“My hus­band has very lit­tle work and the ex­penses are high,” she said.

“The rent for the house is $400, and there’s wa­ter and elec­tric­ity, and with very lit­tle work, we’re not able to cover ev­ery­thing.”

The cou­ple’s house in Aleppo is still stand­ing, but was dam­aged, and will need re­pairs be­fore the fam­ily can move into it again, Ajam said.

In the mean­time, they will stay with her hus­band’s par­ents.

“I’m happy to re­turn to my coun­try,” she said. “But at the same time, my par­ents are here.”

Yas­mine Had­did took her four chil­dren and boarded the bus, leav­ing her hus­band be­hind. He hopes to fol­low after some months, the cou­ple said, but, as in Ajam’s case, their house in Aleppo is dam­aged, and Had­did will stay with her par­ents while it is be­ing re­paired. For her hus­band to stay as well would be too much of a crowd, they said.

“We’ve had enough of the sit­u­a­tion here,” Had­did said.

“It’s enough. The ex­penses and rent of the house, ev­ery­thing has be­come ex­pen­sive. And Syria is our coun­try, it’s our right, it’s bet­ter to go back to our coun­try.” The cou­ple’s tod­dler son be­gan to cry and scream as he faced the prospect of get­ting on the bus with­out his fa­ther.

Since the sum­mer, Gen­eral Se­cu­rity has been reg­is­ter­ing Syr­i­ans will­ing to re­turn and or­ga­niz­ing their trans­porta­tion, as well as serv­ing as an in­ter­me­di­ary with Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties, who in some cases may re­ject a po­ten­tial re­turnee.

The trickle of re­turnees has been grow­ing in re­cent months, but re­mains small in com­par­i­son to the ap­prox­i­mately 950,000 reg­is­tered refugees who re­main in the coun­try.

Be­cause the U.N. refugee agency stopped reg­is­ter­ing Syr­ian refugees in Le­banon in 2015 at the gov­ern­ment’s re­quest, the ac­tual num­ber is be­lieved to be higher.

Gen­eral Se­cu­rity an­nounced in a state­ment last month 87,670 Syr­ian refugees had re­turned to their home coun­try since July, of which 7,670 went via or­ga­nized trips and the rest on their own. The num­ber is much higher than other es­ti­mates, in­clud­ing from Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties based in Da­m­as­cus, who are also co­or­di­nat­ing re­turns and said re­cently that about 28,000 Syr­i­ans had re­turned from Le­banon in the same pe­riod.

Syr­i­ans board a bus in Beirut to re­turn home.

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