Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Arsal

Update on Syrian refugees conditions and status in Lebanon

As in all data, Lebanese are not equipped to gather data, Not in matters of critical issues such as “How many Lebanese live in Lebanon”, How many people live in Lebanon, how many are jobless, what exactly is our deficit… and least of all

How many Syrian refuges have selected Lebanon as a harbour for security”

The UN registered Syrian refugees is about 1,250,000. The exact number is over 2 million or half our population.

The minister of education and minister of interior’s comments may have only been five days apart, but they reveal just how wide the gulf is within the government over how to manage Lebanon’s swelling Syrian refugee population. 

A very angry public backlash ensued as politicians from across the spectrum reassured citizens that they remained wholeheartedly against establishing camps

As the violence across the border morphed from a civilian led uprising to a full blown civil war and families began to flee the country en masse, NGOs and the United Nations became convinced that camps in Lebanon would be the easiest way to safely house and feed hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people.

But from the outset concerns were voiced by politicians and ordinary Lebanese about how long Syrians would stay if they had the opportunity to live in formal sites.

Fears were implicitly tied to the history of Palestinian refugees in the country, whose camps, built as temporary settlements 60 years ago, still stand today and are often branded as hubs of instability and militancy. Whatever their practical merit, camps for Syrian refugees have slipped down the political agenda and, in recent years, been largely dismissed.

published this Oct. 29, 2014

Children make up half the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon

Children make up half the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon

It came as something of a shock when Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas announced in mid-September that an agreement had been reached to build two pilot refugee camps on the border, one at the Masnaa crossing and the other at Abboudieh, a northern crossing.

However, this apparent political breakthrough was short lived.

A very angry public backlash ensued as politicians from across the spectrum reassured citizens that they remained wholeheartedly against establishing camps. Five days after the initial announcement, the ministry performed an effective U turn. A spokesperson for Derbas was rolled out to say that their construction was being “put on hold,” later clarifying that the two camps would not be built at all.

Executive sat down with figures across the political divide to try and wade through the apparent contradictions and confusion at the cabinet level. While the border sites have now been definitively ruled out, frantic deals are currently underway to secure fresh endorsements for camps inland as one of the most divisive refugee issues is dragged unceremoniously back to center stage.

At the heart of this sea-change lies one key variable: Arsal.

The Arsal crisis

“Arsal has been hijacked,” says Khalil Gebara, advisor to Nouhad Machnouk, interior minister and member of the Saad Hariri-led Future movement, who has been working alongside his coalition colleague Derbas to push the camps agenda.

In the worst spillover of violence since the beginning of the Syrian war, the Al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and their rival Islamists, ISIS, teamed up to fight the Lebanese Army for control of the border town in August.

In the ensuing battle, some 12 civilians were killed and hundreds injured. (And how many soldiers were killed and injured?)

The militants took dozens of soldiers captive (how many exactly?) and have so far executed three.

Although the Islamists have been ostensibly pushed out of the town into the Qalamoun mountains, the Army believes that terrorist cells are still living among refugees in informal tented settlements (ITS) and raids are still commonplace.

“The Lebanese and some refugees are finding themselves trapped between the militants and the Army. That is a serious problem …We must act,” Gebara says. With the town virtually on lockdown, aid agencies and the UNHCR are also struggling to reach the refugees.

It is only these very particular security concerns in Arsal that have pushed the contentious camps debate back into the spotlight. 

“We are not talking about establishing several medium sized formal camps, like the initial plans of UNHCR and MOSA [Ministry of Social Affairs] from a couple of years ago. We are not talking about formalizing informal settlements … We are not trying to solve the whole refugee problem here. We are talking about something very specific. Today our priority is Arsal and the security threat. You need to ease the pressure on Arsal and one of the ways to do that is to reduce the number of refugees by at least half, so we propose to take 30,000 or 40,000 refugees and put them in camps,” Gebara explains.

Yet, despite vocal opposition, Gebara maintains that the U turn on the border sites was not down to political maneuverings, but rather to security and financial challenges.

After Derbas announced that he had managed to scrape together enough support within the cabinet for his pilot camps, a team of technical assessors from MOSA and the UNHCR traveled to the proposed sites. Their conclusions were not what the minister had hoped: as Masnaa was just a few kilometers from Syrian army positions, it was deemed too dangerous and would likely cost $10 million to keep 10,000 refugees safe. The Abboudieh site, meanwhile, was simply too small.

Political stalemate

Makram Malaeb, however, who worked as an advisor to Derbas at the time he spoke to Executive, admits that political maneuverings played a part in the collapse of the plan.

“What are the guarantees that [with the new camps] we are not disseminating terrorists among civilian populations in other villages?”

“There was political progress and then there was political backing away,” Malaeb says, cryptically. “At the crisis cell [which includes the prime minister, the MOSA and the interior and foreign affairs ministries], the decision was taken to establish these camps. Then there were some reservations at the cabinet level, so we withdrew the offer.”

The advisor refused to be drawn on exactly who had given a tentative nod to the plans and then withdrawn support, but the former Labor Minister Salim Jreissati says that his party, the Free Patriotic Movement, has remained vehemently against establishing camps, whether for Arsal or in general. The party holds two cabinet seats, but with its allies, the eight-strong bloc wields significant veto power.

The [informal Arsal] camps have effectively bred jihadists who are now fighting against the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese population, taking our soldiers hostage, and causing problems all along our borders … This is why we say we have no intention at all to create camps,” Jreissati says. “What are the guarantees that [with the new camps] we are not disseminating terrorists among civilian populations in other villages?”

Over the past few weeks, Machnouk has been engaged in determined consultations to try and win around FPM and Hezbollah leaders. While Gebara tells Executive that progress has been made, Jreissati says the meetings have not been positive and he does not envisage his party changing their official stance. He also slams Machnouk’s lack of combat experience, saying it contributed to his inability to meaningfully tackle the Arsal crisis.

He is an honest man, but he has no military experience. That is my problem [with him] … Hezbollah shares our point of view and our fears. They are fighting terrorists in Syria, they know about the whole issue. They are in the field. This is the difference between Machnouk and Hezbollah.”

Meanwhile, Machnouk’s advisor Gebara — without explicitly pointing his finger at the FPM or its allies — admits that he was frustrated with the inflexible attitude of many of the political elite toward camps.

“I really don’t understand this complete boycott of any discussion of camps. I might understand concerns about a general strategy to scatter camps all over Lebanon … But this [Arsal proposal] is not bringing in new people, it is simply moving people who are already here. So we are not changing demographics; the demography has already been changed,” he says, referring to widespread concerns that Syrians, like Palestinians, are mostly Sunni and that a prolonged stay in Lebanon could threaten the country’s unique religious coexistence, which sees power carefully divided along sectarian lines. 

Rabih Shibli, director of the Community Projects and Development Unit at the American University of Beirut, who has worked extensively with refugees and Lebanese host communities, says that he would be “extremely astonished” if the Future Movement’s ministries find backing for their project.

“To many Lebanese, the Palestinian question is a cause of much anxiety. The sectarian balance is very fragile and people feel conscious of that,” he says. “[Meanwhile] the political situation is extremely polarized … The only way [an agreement] will be possible is if [Machnouk] reaches a regional agreement with Hezbollah; everything in Lebanon has a regional link. Without this, the stalemate will continue.”

NGO response

While the political debate rumbles on, aid agencies say they are on standby to begin construction as soon as an agreement is reached for Arsal. Dana Sleiman, spokesperson for UNHCR, says that the body “stands ready” to act.

By amassing several thousand families in one space, the sites would also offer more logistically manageable mechanisms of distributing aid

Niamh Murnaghan, country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, an organization that works closely with shelter projects for refugees, also reiterates that most NGOs “will have preparedness plans in place” in the event of a breakthrough. But she also believes that “there is still significant resistance to camps in Lebanon. I would say that if there is an agreement, it is likely to be carefully framed to be limited to just the Arsal situation. I don’t yet see the formalizing of ITS or trying to group refugees more together.”

Camps could be a cheaper way to manage the refugee population, the NRC’s Camp Management Advisor Kristin Vestrheim says, as within formal sites “you can access so many more, and you can particularly reach the most vulnerable who often cost more to reach.”

Official settlements would be built on government land, meaning residents would have so called ‘security of tenure’, protecting them from the whims of landlords, who currently have the right to evict refugees from informal outposts.

By amassing several thousand families in one space, the sites would also offer more logistically manageable mechanisms of distributing aid, and enable the monitoring of women and children who could be at risk of sexual exploitation.

No room at the inn?

While a virtual stalemate on camps for those in Arsal persists and constructing sites for refugees across the board continues to be dismissed out of hand by many, the government has turned to a series of alternative draconian measures to stem the flow from Syria.

And whatever the disputes about camps, when it comes to these fresh plans to slice the refugee numbers, it seems there is support across party lines.

Malaeb, the advisor to Derbas, tells Executive that the current government’s overarching refugee strategy is twofold: to significantly reduce the numbers of Syrians entering Lebanon and to properly manage those who are here. “At least one of those plans seems to be working,” he says.

Malaeb was referring to a proposal signed off in February — but only made public when it began in August — to drastically reduce the numbers entering through Lebanon’s four official borders. Strict new measures mean that people will only be allowed in if they can prove the following: they are using Lebanon to transit to another country; they are in need of medical treatment; or they have the financial means to support themselves. All others are being turned away.

We are of the opinion that Lebanon cannot host any more refugees. Since we have a quarter of our population, or even 30 percent, as Syrian refugees and considering that Jordan and Turkey have effectively closed their borders, we should be able to close ours if we choose,” Malaeb says.

According to a source at General Security, the average number of people crossing the Masnaa border dropped by roughly three quarters during September, with men between 16 and 30 being the most likely to be turned away.

The policy has alarmed human rights observers, but Malaeb argues that statistics show the number of Syrians crossing into the country has been decreasing significantly since November of last year. He also emphasizes that restrictions would be eased in the event of a major outbreak of violence near the border.

We believe that most people who want to flee violence [to Lebanon] have already fled.”

In tandem with the harsh restrictions, the Interior Ministry has announced plans to strip Syrians of their refugee status if they cross the border several times in a month, hoping to catch out those who the ministry says are supported by the Lebanese state and the UN, but are still able to partially work and live inside Syria.

Although Gebara says the policy is directed at Syrian business people accused of leeching off the state, the move will likely also bar refugees who take regular trips to Damascus to visit family or check on property.

A widespread legalizing of refugees’ permits has also taken place in recent months.

It is a proposal that the Interior Ministry says is designed to help refugees who fear being stopped by the police with expired papers, but Malaeb concedes that the architects of the scheme hope it will also encourage Syrians to return home voluntarily, easing pressure across the country and particularly in Arsal.

These proposals to incentivize Syrians to return, and in some cases force them out, appear to represent the government’s way of tackling the refugee crisis while the camps stalemate persists. And it is here, if on little else, that the FPM and Future parties appear united.

Jressati tells Executive: “Our position is that since there are large areas in Syria that are completely secure and that aren’t affected by war … the idea would be for [refugees] to return to villages and cities that haven’t been completely destroyed.”

“All of the political factions that once accused us of racism have now come to us and say we were right at the time to ask for stricter regulation of this enormous influx of refugees coming into our country. That is not a racist position. That is the only solution.”

After Gaza: Lebanese army needs support against obscurantist terrorists

The UK has been supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces to prevent the overspill of the Syrian Civil War into Lebanon. (And It failed to condemn Israel preemptive war on Gaza)

This is from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office:
“Practical UK support for Lebanon’s stability has increased tenfold over the last two years.

In 2013, the UK government approved £12.2 million to fund the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to extend the authority of the Lebanese state into contested border areas. (while approving 600 million to Israel?)

This includes a $16 million ‘train and equip’ programme to strengthen the Land Border Regiments of the LAF.

These Regiments monitor 150km of Lebanon’s border with Syria.

12 border watchtowers are being constructed along the border with Syria with UK support, and we have delivered 164 Land Rovers, 1,500 sets of body armour, a secure radio communication network, border watchtowers, and HESCO bastion ballistic protection for LAF positions along the border.

Over 3500 troops have been trained with UK support, and in 2013, 44 LAF personnel undertook training in the UK.

Our programs are responding to the needs set out by the LAF in their 5-year Capability Development Plan.
Lebanon is a priority country for the UK’s largest ever humanitarian effort in response to the Syria conflict.

UK humanitarian and development support to Lebanon has reached £139 million since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, including in vulnerable areas around Arsal.”

Mr Ellwood condemns attacks, sends his condolences to the families of those…
Note: The latest round in Ersal is moot in its outcome: 40 Lebanese soldiers are still held with Daesh forces

Displaced Lebanese from Syria: Refugees in their homeland

Halima Zaroubi, a frail 80-year-old woman, breaks into tears when describing what’s happened to her home. “Our houses are gone, our lands have dried up,” her voice cracks. “Everything’s gone.

“We’re from Qusayr. We’ve been there for 60 years, since I got married,” Zaroubi recounts with tears in her eyes.

She now lives in tented settlements on Arsal’s outskirts with other Lebanese families. For many returnees, Syria has been their home for decades, and, as soon as it is safe, it will be again.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, millions of people have been forced from their homes.

 and  posted this June 5, 2014:

Arsal, located in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, has been overwhelmed with refugees

Arsal, (3ersal) located in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, has been overwhelmed with refugees
Syrians are not alone in having to escape the country’s overwhelming violence. Lebanese by birth and by nationality, Zaroubi had been living in Qusayr, a border town in Syria’s Damascus province, for 60 years.
Like tens of thousands of other Lebanese who lived and worked in Syria for decades, Zaroubi and her family were forced to leave and settle back in their native country. But rather than settling back into their native land as citizens, they now live like refugees in their own country.

Zaroubi and her daughter Noha live in a tent in an informal refugee camp in Wadi Hmeid near the Syrian border

Zaroubi and her daughter Noha live in a tent in an informal refugee camp in Wadi Hmeid near the Syrian border

Minimal aid

Hundreds of these families have settled in the Lebanese border town of Arsal, a low income community whose population has more than doubled in size due to the influx of refugees.

Lebanese returnees living in Arsal and its outskirts, many of whom have been there for over two years, received their first food aid package in early May. Around 200 families received food boxes prepared by Lebanese NGO Food Blessed and the group Lebanese for Syrian Refugees.

The food packages, part of the first widespread aid distribution package for Arsal’s returnees in two years, were distributed to the returnees by local partner NGO Shabab lil-Umma.

After displaying his Lebanese identification card, returnee Abdul Malik Hassan Ezzedine collected a cardboard box with enough nonperishable food items for roughly one hundred meals. For him and his six children, the food package will barely last five days.

Unable to access UNHCR support, Lebanese returnees — especially those living in border areas like Arsal — have much less support from the Lebanese government and local and international NGOs

UNHCR, the UN agency responsible for coordinating aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, cannot provide aid to anyone who is a Lebanese citizen.

Palestinian refugees escaping Syria turn to UNRWA, the body created specifically to address their needs in the aftermath of the Nakba.

Lebanese returnees are referred to the Lebanese government’s High Relief Commission (HRC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

According to IOM Emergency Coordinator Angela Santucci, HRC and IOM work with various local and international NGOs to assess where returnees are located and what their needs are. IOM and HRC conducted a registration drive between July and October of last year, registering over 17,000 Lebanese returnees (approximately 3,200 households) from Syria who are in need of assistance.

However, in a report about the situation released in December 2013, they estimated that the true number at the time was around 29,000 individuals (roughly 5,270 households). Their expectation is that once you add the number of new arrivals to the non-registered returnees the number will have significantly grown by the end of this year. “Although we haven’t been able to get updated statistics [since October], our projection is that there will be 50,000 [returnees] by the end of 2014,” Santucci said.

The circumstances of Lebanese returnees are closer to those of Syrian refugees — despite some differences — than to the situation of poor Lebanese

Most returnees registered by IOM had been living in Syria’s Homs province, with the next largest number coming from Damascus province.

Fighting in Homs escalated significantly in 2012, driving both Syrians and Lebanese out of their homes. Like Syrian refugees, the largest number of Lebanese returnees settled in the Bekaa and are renting apartments or living with host families.

Around 80 of the registered households live in tented settlements or collective shelters with Syrian refugees; but with so few returnee families officially registered, the number living in tented settlements is likely to be much higher.

Although IOM and its partners in Lebanon had been providing some food, health and shelter aid to returnees, assistance has been halted due to budget constraints. Both returnees and the IOM alike lament the Lebanese government’s lackluster response to the returnees.

“Did the High Relief Commission give you anything at all?” Ezzedine asks his companions, pointing to each one. They shook their heads in turn. “No, no, no. Wouldn’t you expect something from your government if your house got completely destroyed?”

The IOM notes that the Lebanese government’s capabilities have become “severely overstretched” and that returnees’ basic access to resources must be drastically improved. “In the current context, the needs of Lebanese returnees have often been overlooked, either because they aren’t refugees or because there has been a lack of detailed information on their situation,” wrote Santucci in an IOM press release in December 2013.

Different realities

Lebanese returnees in the town of Arsal stand in line to receive food packages

Lebanese returnees in the town of Arsal stand in line to receive food packages

Though displaced by the same conflict, Syrian refugees and Lebanese returnees have had very different experiences.

Unable to access UNHCR support, Lebanese returnees — especially those living in border areas like Arsal — have much less support from the Lebanese government and local and international NGOs.

While registration with UNHCR for Syrian refugees in Lebanon has been continually open since 2011, IOM and HRC have suspended registration for Lebanese returnees due to budget constraints, thereby preventing people not already registered from getting access to what little assistance the agencies have available.

Nor are returnees’ lives similar to disadvantaged Lebanese citizens. The national average unemployment rate hovers around 10% (don’t believe Lebanese official statistics), but the unemployment rate for Lebanese returnees is an alarming 69 percent.

Only 2% of the 9,630 returnees aged between 18 and 64 have regular employment, and nearly 30 percent of returnee families have no wage earners at all, according to a recent IOM assessment. For Ezzedine and other Lebanese returnees in Arsal’s outskirts, the only option for employment is in the town’s quarries, where 12 hours of backbreaking work earns them LL 10,000 (less than $7).

For many returnees, Syria has been their home for decades, and, as soon as it is safe, it will be again

In terms of employment, Lebanese returnees occupy a middle ground between refugee and citizen. While there is nothing legally preventing them from working, there simply aren’t jobs to take.

This is largely due to returnees arriving in Lebanon’s border areas and the Bekaa valley, where jobs are already scarce and infrastructure is straining under the number of refugees. Rather than moving to find work, many returnees are choosing to remain close to Syria so that they can return more easily.

Returnee children also face challenges in resuming their education in Lebanon. According to Santucci, although returnees’ Lebanese identification cards allow them to register with Lebanon’s state schools, they are accustomed to Syria’s Arabic-language school system and curriculum and find it very difficult to adjust to Lebanon’s French and English systems.

A full 85% of returnees own no property at all in Lebanon. And with many returnee families having spent more than 6 decades in Syria, many lack a network of Lebanese relatives or friends on which to rely.

While they are not classed in the same category as Syrian refugees, returnees’ stories are much the same. They arrived in Lebanon with nothing. “There are cases where these people have been living in Syria for so long — for decades — that their vulnerabilities are associated much more to Syrian refugees,” Santucci said.

IOM noted in its December 2013 report that the circumstances of Lebanese returnees are closer to those of Syrian refugees — despite some differences — than to the situation of poor Lebanese.

Their inability to access basic services (what basic services Lebanese “citizens receive?), find employment or be accepted by other Lebanese people is also hampered by people’s perceptions.

Many have Syrian accents and are seen by much of Lebanon’s population as Syrian. “When you’ve been made a refugee from a country where your family has been living for 90 years, you’re in an entirely different situation,” said Ahmad Fliti, deputy mayor of Arsal. Many returnees who have settled in Arsal can trace their roots back to the border town.

Access denied

Lebanese returnees have the same legal status under Lebanese law as other Lebanese citizens

The situation in the small town for both refugees and returnees is growing increasingly dire. The swelling population has placed extreme strain on the town’s infrastructure, including its electrical grids, water tanks and trash disposal services.

There’s frequent shelling in the area and Syrian Air Force planes regularly fly over the town’s outskirts; kidnappings have also become increasingly common. “Our food packages are critical for Lebanese returnees because the security situation in Arsal means international NGOs don’t have a physical presence there,” said Lebanese for Syrian Refugees’ member Roa Abou Zeid.

This was confirmed by UNHCR representative Lisa Khaled who said the agency used to have a bigger presence in the town but, like all other international agencies, they left when shelling over the border became common. While they do still work in Arsal, they are unable to operate in the area when there are evident security concerns. 

Arsal has not gotten any easier to access. It is a historically Sunni town perceived to be pro-Syrian opposition, surrounded by Shiite towns with largely pro-Hezbollah populations.

Lebanese Army checkpoints adorn Arsal’s only access road to the rest of Lebanon. Until very recently, a Hezbollah-operated checkpoint was stationed between the town and the adjacent Shiite-majority Labweh. This has left many within Arsal — refugees, returnees and residents of the town alike — extremely hesitant to travel outside the town.

“How are we supposed to get to Beirut? Our lives aren’t secure if we go there,” said Abdullah, a Lebanese returnee waiting in line to receive food packages. “Our lives aren’t even secure if we go to Labweh.”

Last summer, returnees living in Arsal had to pass through Labweh to register with IOM and the HRC in larger Bekaa cities; the fear of crossing out of Arsal’s borders prevented many returnees from registering with the NGO.

“Even people who are from Arsal don’t leave the town,” Ezzedine said. His calloused hands hold up his Lebanese national identification card with a mixture of pride and disdain: he is happy to be Lebanese, he says, but adds that his nationality has complicated his ability to receive aid.

“What are we supposed to do, eat rocks?” asks Ezzedine, 54, holding up his Lebanese ID card

“What are we supposed to do, eat rocks?” asks Ezzedine, 54, holding up his Lebanese ID card

Mere technicalities

According to IOM’s Santucci, Lebanese returnees have the same legal status under Lebanese law as other Lebanese citizens. There is no legal differentiation between a Lebanese who has lived in Beirut since birth and one who was born in Syria, as long as they both have national ID cards. (Ask any Lebanese if he believes this claim)

“As Lebanese citizens, it is the Lebanese government’s responsibility, from a legal standpoint, to adopt them and settle them in Lebanon with dignity,” said Nabil Halabi, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.

Halabi added that the Lebanese government should not deal with returnees the same way it has responded to the influx of Syrian and Palestinian refugees. “If the Lebanese government considers Syrian refugees to be guests here, then the Lebanese who fled from the border areas should not be considered guests. These are our citizens.” Both he and Arsal’s Fliti said the onus is on the Ministry of Social Affairs to better assess returnee needs and coordinate aid to them.

The ministry itself may finally be making some moves. Ministry representative Hala Helou said the newly formed returnee department in the ministry is now taking on the role of coordinating the government response toward returnees with that of international organizations, much like what it already does for Syrian refugees.

The ministerial department has presented a proposal to the Lebanese cabinet on how to structure the department and address the returnee crisis but, expectedly, there are delays in the ministerial approval. “The cabinet is doing its own thing for a few weeks, and when they approve our proposal, we’ll have clear guidelines for how to work,” Helou said.

IOM and HRC have been facing their own obstacles. Since the first wave of registrations last year, budget constraints have prevented both from registering and assisting other returnees. According to Fliti, rent assistance that IOM provided to 25 of the 200 Lebanese returnee families in Arsal only lasted two months, and much of the aid the group had been giving to other households in the Bekaa was limited due to a lack of funds. Santucci said that IOM expected to do another round of registration soon, depending on donor funding.

HRC itself has been embroiled in corruption charges.

Its secretary general, Ibrahim Bashir, was indicted on May 13 on charges of embezzling over $10 million of public funds. Allegations of corruption within HRC are neither new nor uncommon.

Despite corruption, and despite HRC’s lack of accessible registration centers for many returnees, Santucci says Lebanese returnees are still seeking registration help from the institution. An HRC representative was unavailable for comment on the commission’s upcoming returnee activities.

As donor funding and aid grow increasingly scarce and Syria’s humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, many returnees are left in limbo. A full 75% of those registered told IOM they were unsure when they’d be able to return to Syria, but that they were waiting on “one or several factors” to change before considering a journey back.

What has become clear, however, is that many no longer consider Lebanon their home. “We’re from Qusayr. We’ve been there for sixty years, since I got married,” Zaroubi recounts with tears in her eyes. She now lives in tented settlements on Arsal’s outskirts with other Lebanese families. For many returnees, Syria has been their home for decades, and, as soon as it is safe, it will be again.

When asked whether being in Lebanon makes him feel like a Lebanese national or a refugee, Ezzedine scoffed: “No one’s telling us, ‘You returned to your country, welcome back.’”




March 2023

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