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
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.