THE BLOG

Six Years Of War: Syrian Refugee Children In Lebanon

20/03/2017 16:37 GMT | Updated 20/03/2017 16:37 GMT

Nisrine and her six children fled from Raqqa six months ago. They were injured in an aerial bombardment. Her husband (their father) was wounded and then taken out and killed by fighters of the so-called Islamic State. She and her two elder boys, aged 13 and 15, try to pays for the necessities by working in the fields for less than four dollars a day. Unicef/Modola

The Palestinians then and the Syrians now - across forty years Lebanon has suffered first from its own war and now from its neighbour's. There are echoes of one in the other.

The numbers are overwhelming. A million and a half Syrian refugees have sought refuge across Lebanon, the greatest concentration of refugees per capita anywhere in the world. They now amount to one in four of the country's population.

They're not in camps. After its own 15 year civil war Lebanon doesn't do camps any more, but rather in what it calls 'informal settlements'. There are four thousand of these across the country, in groups of as few as a dozen tents or huts or more than a hundred. Families live here, insecure, destitute and by no means weatherproof.

2017-03-20-1490016164-2996486-20170313_Lebanon_SM_33.JPG

Unicef/Modola

Nor is there any prospect of a return to their home country. Primitive as the conditions are here, they are better for the children in Lebanon than for those who are still in Syria. Last year, UNICEF estimates that 652 children were killed there and another 850 were recruited as young fighters. 2.8 million of the young are in hard-to-reach areas and 280,000 are under siege conditions. There are 13 areas of Syria in which the medieval tactic of a siege is regularly used against civilian populations.

Every family has its war story. Nisrine and her six children fled from Raqqa six months ago. They were injured in an aerial bombardment. Her husband (their father) was wounded and then taken out and killed by fighters of the so-called Islamic State. She and her two elder boys, aged 13 and 15, try to pays for the necessities by working in the fields for less than four dollars a day. That means they have no schooling. Childhoods are lost, both inside Syria and outside it.

No child is spared the horrors of war in Syria, where children come under attack on a daily basis. Homes, schools and hospitals are destroyed.

UNICEF is doing all it can, both by itself and through Lebanese partners, to alleviate the suffering of the million and a half who have fled. One organisation is pitching its tents in a new settlement every day, providing inoculations and other life-saving health care to the very young. The midwife not only advises mothers to be, but urges families to resist the trend of early marriage, sometimes at the age of 13 or even 12.

There are however frictions between the incomers and the host communities. The official attitude is that the refugees are welcome to stay, but on the understanding that they will return in the medium or long term.

2017-03-20-1490016338-3689581-20170313_Lebanon_SM_27.JPG

Unicef/Modola

On the day of our visit, a two year old girl died in one of the settlements of complications brought on by asthma. It proved difficult to find Lebanese ground to bury her in.

Fatima, also from Raqqa, fled first to Beirut and then, because she could not afford it to the Bakaa Valley. Her husband has had a stroke and cannot work. She tries to make a living as a seamstress. He son, now six, was born in Syria; her daughter two weeks ago in the Valley. When she went to the hospital to give birth, she was not sympathetically treated. She was told, 'that'd all you Syrians do, make babies and nothing else'.

The settlements are occasionally attacked, and sometimes raided by the security forces in search of extremist elements. The refugees, many of them undocumented, do their best not to draw attention to themselves.

What is extraordinary is the resilience and the spirit of these children. Less than half of them are in school, but they play their games and dream their dreams. Hamid, at fifteen, dreams of course of returning home - and of football. From a tent in the mud of the Bekaa Valley, he's a fan of Barcelona.