Lebanon suffers under the strain of a refugee crisis now out of control

The Observer reports: As you come through the military checkpoints on the way into Wadi Khaled, local mobile phones bleep with an unsolicited text: “The Ministry of Tourism welcomes you to Syria.”

This part of northern Lebanon, which juts like a knucklebone into Syria, is so close to the war that the villagers can watch the rockets land and palls of smoke rising across the hillsides. Children have swarmed up on to the first floor of the shell of a half-built house and are pointing excitedly to where the outlying villages of Homs begin. “I can see our house,” shouts Satash, six.

His mother, Maro, 28, stands back with her eyes cast down. “The older girls come up here and spend hours and hours sitting and looking out at Syria. I cannot even look.”

Satash’s home is, in reality, long gone. He now lives in Lebanon, in what used to be a shed for slaughtering chickens, with his parents and grandparents, his three-year-old sister and six orphaned cousins. The cousins’ mother was killed by shelling that stopped the delivery of medicines to treat her sickness; their father died from shrapnel wounds.

After fleeing in the middle of the night when a shell landed in their yard, taking only the clothes they stood up in, the family walked south for seven hours before crossing into Lebanon. They wandered for several months looking for help and accommodation, and ended up in the village of Knaisse in Wadi Khaled, only three miles from their Syrian home.

The family live in a shed, the rent waived by a kindly Lebanese. They have one blanket between five people, and plastic bags stuffed along the flimsy roof to stop the rain coming in. The grandmother lies on a scrap of matting, suffering from afflictions for which there is no money to buy treatment.

Maro and family live on a small monthly cash handout from a UN agency. Like most of the 1.3 million Syrian refugees now in Lebanon, a country of just 4.2 million people, they are worried about the snow that will start falling on the hills of Wadi Khaled within weeks. This will be their second winter here. “The room becomes like a refrigerator in the winter, the water floods like a lake all around and the wind is so cold,” said Maro’s husband, Ahmad, who is clearly under strain. He shouts again and again: “The people who stayed are dead under the rubble!” [Continue reading…]

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