Ketermaya, Lebanon, one hour from Beirut, is steps away from the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, and it is also home to six refugee families from Syria who literally have nowhere else to go. The land is owned by Mr. Ali Tafesh, who charges them nothing, because they have nothing. Most of the people there can’t work because of longtime disabilities or wounds of war, or because they don’t have working papers. But the majority are too young to work anyway – they have been orphaned or abandoned and now play with anything they can find.
Global Communities with funding from UNHCR has worked in Lebanon since 2003. They provide support to refugees in the form of shelter, food and other basics, which are critical since Lebanon currently has the highest concentration of refugees worldwide. Iman Kenno lives in the camp with her brother’s six children since her mother abandoned them when Syria’s war started. Their mother used to make money selling napkins on the street, and Iman and her family lived very happily in Syria until her four brothers and one sister were killed by shelling. When they first came to Ketermaya – a frequent destination for the poorest Syrians, since it is very close to its border – they lived in an apartment but were evicted when their rent money ran out after only three months. So they came to Ketermaya and have been supported ever since by Mr. Tafesh (affectionately called Mr. Ali by adults and children at the camp).
Iman has breast cancer but cannot afford nor access any treatment, and the nerves in her hands are very weak, making basic activities painful. And when she was a baby she had a severe fever, so to this day she has difficulty speaking and making herself understood. Global Communities coordinates a small clinic from time to time at the camp, which is the only time she sees a doctor.
Mr. Ali has been working for four and a half years for Syrian refugees. He refuses to charge them fees of any kind. While there is no electricity nor water, he lets the families live in tents on his property even though the Lebanese government has told him to shut the camp down. He refuses since they are what he calls extreme refugees, those who have no other options.
One tent serves as a makeshift school where children aged 8-14 receive lessons from a teacher. Additionally a 12-year-old girl spends much of her time instructing younger children on lessons she remembers from when she attended an official school. The kids love it since they get to be with other kids, and have a sense of normalcy and structure to their days. The camp has no sewage tank, so the kids play football and other games just inches from raw sewage.
Shiha Coyssay has been raising three orphans at the camp following the death of their parents in an attack on their home in Syria. She also lost two children in the same attack, and she sustained injuries to her eye, chest and hand. For more than two years she has received no aid; her husband hasn’t been able to find a job and because she has to stay with their remaining four children during the day, she can’t work either. The sole support for her family of nine is a meal card her son’s wife gets from UNHCR meant for three people at a total of $19 a month. “The hardest thing about being here is everything,” she says. “It’s very hot, and we have no money at all. Our wish is to one day go back to Syria.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Iman Basal escaped from Syria with her three children, aged nine, eight and four, after her husband was imprisoned. She knows if she goes back she will be killed. “They’re not having enough food – for the last 15 days they’ve had no dairy, only bread and oil,” she says. Now her husband works in a market so sometimes he comes home with leftover chicken and vegetables, but those leftovers can’t be counted on regularly. Her husband was jailed and tortured for more than two months and now has many psychological problems.
“We’re not happy at all. We have no future plans, all we can do is dream of getting back to our country,” she says. “The only thing that makes me feel safe is that we’re all under one roof,” she says.
Mr. Ali plans to keep the land for these families until the conflict in Syria ends and they can return, if they want to and are able to. The families say Global Communities is the only INGO that has been helpful; they say other organizations show up to take pictures and then leave without providing any assistance even toward their most basic needs, even though they have been promised hygiene kits and mattresses, to no avail. Additionally, for the last six months NGO’s have been prohibited from entering because camps are unlawful in Lebanon, and for this reason, the families cannot register for refugee status, which would grant them some small benefits.
Global Communities is also assisting Lebanese host communities that support Syrian refugees through the Global Communities’ Shelter Assistance for Refugees program. Through the program, Global Communities rehabilitates unfurnished houses if the owner agrees to let a refugee family live in the home rent-free for one year.
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