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Syria crisis: finding shelter in a school

In the past week, around 15 refugee families have arrived at the Al Makassed School in Bar Elias, Lebanon.

Some came from Baba Amr and Qosayr, while others have just arrived from Syria’s capital Damascus, where the situation is deteriorating.

They’re all taking shelter in a three-floor school, sharing three toilets and using one room on the first floor to cook, shower and, sometimes, to sleep.

Lacking the basics

When I arrived, I saw dark curtains in the playground. Every family of four to ten members had their own space divided by a curtain, which was the only thing giving them some sense of privacy.

There were only a few mattresses on the floor, no carpets, no pillows and no blankets.

On the other side of the playground stood a broken oven. Women were using it to boil water as there was no access to hot water.

Finding drinking water was also a major problem. Families would buy bottles or leave tap water in the sun to purify ready to drink the next day.

“None of them are going to school”

“I came here with my brother,” says Salim. “It hasn’t been an easy journey for us and we didn’t go through the official borders to get here. There was a Syrian man with a van helping us to cross.

“There were more than 35 people, totally squeezed. It took us three days and we didn’t feel safe until we arrived in Lebanon.

“I have three children,” he continued, “none of them are going to school. They even missed their school year in Syria because of the fighting.”

Salim’s wife Fatima works in the agricultural fields in Bekaa. She spends her entire day outside and leaves her children with their grandmother who is very old.

“It is very relieving for me to know that my children will be going to the child-friendly space starting this Wednesday,” says Fatima.

“We have to worry about how to survive before anything else,” she continues. “Your assistance will definitely help.”

Fatima looked very tired holding her little child in her arms. It was a mixture of fasting, lack of sleep, worry and sadness.

“I worry about my sisters,” she says, “they are still in Syria.”

Looking for hope

Around 120 people live in this school. Most of them spend their days unable to find work.

In particular, men were very frustrated about their situation and the conditions they’re living in. I could see they were hesitant to talk or to let me take photos of them or their children.

“The situation here is really bad,” says Raf’at, “just look at the conditions we live in. We are barely receiving any assistance and we don’t know for how long this will be the case.

“Despite the bad conditions we live in,” added his wife Tahani, “it is still better than to get killed in Syria. I want to go back, but not before fighting stops.”

Although they were very reluctant to talk, Syrian families gathered around me hoping for assistance of any kind.

They were looking for hope, for change and maybe reassurance.

On my way back to Beirut, I thought about the limited choices each of these families had at the moment; how hard it must be for them to leave everything behind not knowing when or if they will come back, and how difficult it must be to cope with such a change in living conditions.

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