Editorial

Syrian refugees: Tension and solidarity in exile in Lebanon

While Lebanese have shown solidarity with Syrians fleeing war, tensions have arisen over limited resources and jobs.

The sun sets in Al Fares, on the outskirts of Bar Elias, one of the informal refugee settlements in the Bekaa Valley. Across Lebanon, Syrian refugees live in tented settlements and among host communities. There are an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who make up about 25 percent of the population. [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld]

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - An estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees now live across Lebanon, either with host communities or in informal tented settlements.

While Lebanese communities have shown solidarity with Syrians fleeing the war, tensions have arisen over limited resources and growing insecurity.

Individual stories provide an insight into the lives of Syrian refugees and their Lebanese hosts in Akkar in northern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley.

Yusra, 35, looks out of her tent in the Al Fares Syrian refugee settlement in the Bekaa Valley. She left Syria in 2011 with her husband and eight-month-old baby. Yusra has successfully applied for two grants from organisations to help her set up her own business. 'My dream is now to get an administrative job at a larger company. I'm only looking for a better future for my son.' [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld] Syrian refugees work in a field on the outskirts of Rawda village in the Bekaa Valley. Before the outbreak of war in Syria, it was common for Syrians to come to Lebanon for seasonal work, especially in agriculture. Many Syrian seasonal workers are now refugees in Lebanon. They earn less than $7 a day. Most local Lebanese also work in farming and competition for jobs is a source of tension. [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld] Sayid*, 77, fled Aleppo, Syria, with his wife in 2012, leaving the rest of his family behind. He works as a watchman for a forest in the Bekaa Valley. 'In the winter, I don't get paid but I don't pay for my accommodation. In the summer, I am paid to do other tasks like watering the trees and I pay rent. So I save as much money as I can in the summer so I can survive the winter months. Yet sometimes, we still can't afford to buy bread.' [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld] Mother-of-seven Rana, 35, left Syria seven years ago when the shelling began in Idlib, 59km southwest of Aleppo. She lives on a chicken farm owned by a Lebanese landowner. 'I am so thankful to our landlord. I often borrow food supplies from his shop, and he waits until I can afford to pay him back when I receive my monthly food voucher.' [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld] Khalida, 56, relocated to Kherbet Dawood, in northern Lebanon, with her daughters after one of her sons was shot in Syria. Her other son was detained and is still missing. She worries for her daughters' education and her own declining health. 'If the situation improves in Syria, I would like to go back. All my memories and beloved ones are there in Syria, and my mother's grave. To me, there is nowhere more precious than home.' [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld] Ahmad, a 15-year-old Syrian refugee, works at his uncle's garage in Bar Elias in the Bekaa Valley. He washes cars in the summer and goes to school in the winter. Limited resources and work restrictions on Syrian parents mean that children are often sent to work, missing out on their education. Syrian refugees often have no choice but to work informally without the correct permits, making them vulnerable to exploitation and the threat of detention and deportation. [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld] A Syrian girl on the way to her cousin's wedding inside the Jarrahieh refugee settlement close to Bar Elias. Refugees face restrictions on their movement, especially those living in informal tented cities. Social gatherings such as weddings and funerals are an opportunity for refugees and host communities to come together. As neighbouring countries with a history of cross-border relationships and trade, Syrians and Lebanese have many shared ties. [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld] Lebanese housewife Hyam, 34, leads her cow in Wadi Khaled, in northern Lebanon. Because of its proximity to some of the early Syrian conflict hotspots, Wadi Khaled was among the first Lebanese regions to receive Syrian refugees in 2011. 'We (Lebanese families) have hosted Syrians in our houses. We only wish them a peaceful life in their country.' Despite challenges and tensions, some Lebanese express significant levels of solidarity with Syrians suffering the effects of the war. Some have housed Syrian families for free, paid for their healthcare, or provided them with food. [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld] Abdallah 62*, is a Syrian grandfather and part-time construction worker, living in Kherbet Dawood village in northern Lebanon. He lost two sons in the Syrian war. 'Here we are humiliated, no matter what our conditions are. It feels like a big prison – if you go out, the Lebanese army might stop you to ask for residency documents. Sometimes we work and never get paid. We've become like beggars here.' [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld] Syrian and Lebanese children play football together for the first time inside Wadi Khaled in northern Lebanon. The football pitch is open to Lebanese and Syrians and it is a space that brings them together. While not a solution to underlying causes of tensions, which have to do with problems of governance - and the legal status of refugees, in particular, providing opportunities for communities to interact can be a positive first step to building bridges between refugees and hosts. [Diego Ibarra Sanchez/Saferworld]