Lebanon: Fatima’s story
“I was watching television at home and there was a loud explosion,” said 60-year-old Fatima*. “And the walls around me started collapsing.”
A mortar had hit Fatima’s neighbour’s home in Homs, Syria. As soon as the explosions stopped, Fatima’s family and their neighbours fled. Since then her family has been moving from one town to another in Syria in search of safety.
“We left Homs in the beginning (early 2011). From Homs, we went to Damascus, then to Banias, before coming to Lebanon,” says Fatima who is now in Akkar, northern Lebanon. She fled Syria’s coastal town of Banias with her two daughters and grandchildren less than two months ago when fighting in the area intensified displacing thousands of families.
“We decided to leave Syria… no place was safe,” says Fatima’s daughter Souhayla. “We travelled from sunrise to sunset to get to Lebanon and had to stop at many checkpoints.” The journey from Banias to the Lebanese border normally takes about three to four hours.
Souhayla, 49, who left with her four children, has not heard from her husband in more than a year. “He left home for work one day and never came back,” she says. She is also very worried about her older child, seven-year-old Ahmed, who has not been able to sleep or eat properly for some time now.
“His mother says that he likes to play war games and often fights with the other children,” says Rana Koussa of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), who was visiting the family with her colleague, Elsa Maarawi, to see what kind of assistance they needed.
“Most of the refugees we support are receiving psychosocial counseling”
There are nearly 200,000 registered Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In Akkar, UNHCR is working with DRC and another international NGO, War Child, to support refugees at a local community centre. Around 200 Syrian children come to the centre for psychosocial support and remedial classes.
“Last month, we were registering about 200 families a week in Akkar. Many of them were from Al Qusayr which is not too far from here,” said Rana who has worked with more than 50 families this year.
Some of the heaviest fighting in Syria took place in Al Qusayr in early June. Around 40,000 people –the vast majority of the inhabitants – fled the area fearing for their lives. Many arrived in Lebanon on foot.
“Most of the refugees we support are receiving psycho-social counseling,” added Elsa Maarawi who works as a protection officer. “And many of them are women and children.”
Fatima’s family now lives in a room that they rent from a Lebanese family. All seven of them sleep in the small room. As new refugees, they will be receiving a standard aid package that includes mattresses, blankets and food rations, says Elsa. They will also receive counseling and will be referred to other organizations that can provide specific services or treatment that they might need.
Hana, Fatima’s 21-year-old daughter, has been referred to a local NGO, the Restart Center, which provides psychiatric care for people traumatized by violence. Fatima says Hana does not speak very much since they left their home in Homs. “She is still affected by the sounds of the explosions.”
The family did not receive any aid in Syria. “We were too afraid to register even though we sometimes spent many days without water or bread,” said Souhayla. “We just helped each other in the community and shared with each other whatever we had.”
DRC is working with UN agencies and partner organizations to reach hundreds of thousands of people inside Syria as well as in surrounding countries. Through the OCHA-managed Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan, it is appealing for funding to provide emergency assistance, to deliver hygiene and sanitation projects, and to offer educational and psycho-social support for children inside Syria.
*All names have been changed.