Abu Atef’s family is among 3000 Palestinian refugees who were forced to flee from their homes in Syria to Lebanon and are now facing an uncertain future and receiving little aid.
They had been living for many years as Palestinian refugees in Syria. But when the violence reached their doorstep, they packed their belongings and fled to Lebanon.
The United Nations relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) recently said the number of Palestinians who have fled Syria has increased from 1000 since July to 3000 and more are arriving daily.
“The number of Palestinian refugees from Syria has gradually been increasing, in July we were at 1,000 people; the number has now reached more than 3,000 people since July 18th. The Palestinians from Syria enter Lebanon with a seven-day visa which is extendable for one month from the Sureté Générale (Lebanese intelligence services) and they are now moving around the country staying with their friends and families and throughout the camps, the numbers are increasing by the day,” Roger Davies, acting director for UNWRA affairs in Lebanon said.
UNRWA says it is working with other NGO organizations to provide non-food assistance and help families in need, for example by providing healthcare and medical services as well as schooling for children of the displaced families.
But Abu Atef who came to Lebanon with his wife and three children aged 12, 9 and 4 years old two weeks ago, says he does not know how to find 200 U.S. dollars a month to pay the rent for the small apartment in which they live in Chatila camp in the suburbs of Beirut.
Abu Atef'’s family arrived with only a few of their belongings because they were in such a hurry to leave Syria due to the violence there.
Initially they found accommodation with a Lebanese family to whom they had offered shelter in Syria during the 2006 war in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah.
Abu Atef’s family moved on to Chatila camp hoping for help, but they had been disappointed.
“Everything here is for money, they even treat us as tourists not refugees, and we are in the most desperate need...,”' he said, choking back tears as his wife and children beside him, sitting on thin mattresses that they have borrowed along with the fan.
He said the small flat in which the family lived was bare of the most basic furniture.
“We don’t know how to get the money for the rent, that is the first thing and the second thing is... chickens can’t live in this house, you can’t put chickens in this house, there is nothing, we borrowed the fan from the neighbors, thanks to the neighbor he gave us a fan, there is no cooler to drink cold water in summer, and, as you, can see the mattresses... we borrowed them also, we begged for them,” Abu Atef said.
Abu Ate’'s wife explained that the family had fled their home in Yalda, near Damascus’s al-Yarmouk refugee camp, for safety reasons.
“We are grown-ups and we can handle it, there is no problem if we are deprived but what about the little ones, it is not their fault. We had a house, thank God. It was not that luxurious but we thanked God, we had a house. They were living, playing, drinking... but then it was not safe anymore... there was no more safety and that is most important... Your child could die in front of you and you couldn't do anything for them,” Umm Atef said.
She said her great hope was for the situation in Syria to get better so that the family could return there.
“I wish now Syria goes back to the way it was... My country is Palestine and I wish to return to it but Syria is also my home. We are waiting.. hoping for the situation and things to get better so we can go back... we can't give Syria up. There is a saying: “If you drink from the water of Damascus once...”
Palestinian refugees from Syria receive a seven-day visa upon entering Lebanon and then pay to renew it.
UNRWA is coordinating with the Lebanese government and Palestinian local organizations to ease the visa restrictions on Palestinians fleeing Syria.
There is much left to be done to help the refugees, Ziad Hamou, the head of the local ‘Lajna Sha’abiyyah’ or People’s Committee in Chatila camp, said.
“The situation of those families (Palestinian refugees from Syria) is so bad and the aid is so little, from all sides, starting with the government and the UNRWA and Palestine Liberation Organization,” he said.
Hamou said there are currently 70 families from Syria who are living in Chatila camp, many of them living with other families in the crowded camp.
Some 700,000 people fled or were driven from their homes when Israel was created after the 1948 war, but now as many as five million refugees and their descendants live in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, many of them in squalid camps.