Daily life for the Syrian refugees in Shebaa

The population of Syrian refugees in Shebaa has outnumbered the local population. Most of them have fled from the village of Beit Jin and it’s region. When rising combats between the armed opposition and the regimes army erupted, the civilians fled towards Shebaa (the nearest village in Lebanon) and they now live in the unoccupied houses, shops and basements rented to them by the villagers. Confessionally speaking the choice of Shebaa was obvious since the majority of the small town is Sunni,  relations between the two communities are all together fairly good even though discontent concerning the mass arrival of refugees is often heard from the locals.

 For the second week, I drive around Shebaa trying to picture the impact of the Syrian conflict in the village. Following a local community mobilizer (whose job is to establish a contact between the refugees and his NGO), I realize that most of the houses in the agglomeration are occupied by refugees. As we drive through the main street past a group of women he assures me that all are Syrians, same thing for the workers building the houses or further on for those repairing the road. On the graduated terrace steps built on the region’s mountainous land, I photograph a group of farmers working, plowing the soil. Them too have fled the conflicts since 3 months. In the apple and cherry orchards women pick up wood this way compensating the lack of fuel oil used in the stoves. In the other towns I visited the typical Syrian motor bikes are now part of the landscape. Here in Shebaa, since the beginning of the influx, the number of donkeys has increased. Villagers from Beit Jin, a mostly rural region used them to cross the border. The rocky path through the rough land in the mountains separating the two countries made it impossible to pass vehicles. Now from time to time a caravan of around ten animals leaves for Syria in order to trade goods.

All these scenes could be ordinary life scenes in a Lebanese or Syrian agricultural region. But in they are case a the visual indicator of what is one of the biggest refugees crises. These ordinary farmers and workers have fled a beastly war. They are providing to Lebanese contractors a cheap workforce provoking tensions between the communities. The children in the street, are part of this so called lost generation. A small percentage of them will go to school, others might learn enough English to be employed by an NGO when finally their country will find peace. But what will they think about of the world, that world who cowardly abandoned them? A member of the Lebanese Red Cross, told me that nowadays only one or two families arrive each week. The situation on the other side of the border is relatively calm even though a far away explosion can be heard from time to time. The village is at its far limit regarding the number of refugees it can shelter, it would be a catastrophe for the locals if the conflict would erupt on this side of Syria. This winter the very little amount of snowfall could provoke a lack of drinking water in some regions. Most of the streams are dry in Shebaa. How will the two communities live together if they have to face such challenges?

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