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Sahar and her family The al-haj Ahmed family in the refugee camp in Lebanon.

The family with nowhere left to run

Over the past three years the al-haj Ahmed family have been fleeing the war. They have no possibility of leaving the camp in Lebanon where they now live. Diakonia’s partner organization Najdeh works with Lebanon’s most vulnerable refugee group: Syrian Palestinians.

10/20/2015 Publisher: Viktoria Myrén

With nothing but the clothes on their backs, the al-haj Ahmed family left their home in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, outside Damascus. They didn’t even manage to take with them the cushions in which they had hidden their savings.

- The bombs were simply falling all around us. It was impossible to know where they’d end up – one hit a neighbour’s house. We took our children into our arms and ran, says Sahar.

Constantly fleeing

Over the past few years she and her husband Faruk have been constantly fleeing – from bomb planes in the air, snipers and armed men on the streets, and from starvation in the besieged areas in which they were forced to live. 

- Lian is four years old – she doesn’t know of any life other than this. Time and again we fled from the war to safer areas. In the end there were no safe places left to run to. That’s when we came here, she says.

The family now lives in a camp just a few kilometres from the Syrian border. Next to a potato field is a group of home-made tents, small cement huts and barracks, standing in a row. On the other side of the mountains, just a short car ride away, is their home.

- There are no bombs here, but there’s no sense of calm either. In the space of an hour the war could be here, and we’re always afraid that the Lebanese authorities will send us back to Syria. This is no place to bring up children,”says Faruk.

Unable to work

As a Palestinian he’s not entitled to stay in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities have introduced restrictions that mean that Syrian Palestinians cannot renew their residence permits. The fact that they are not entitled to stay in the country means that they cannot work or go outside the camp where they live, and that their newborn son Muhammad is stateless.

- I don’t have the right to work, I can’t travel anywhere else. The least you could wish for in this situation is freedom of movement in the country where you live, says Faruk.

Diakonia’s partner organization Najdeh is one of few organizations in Lebanon that works with Palestinian refugees from Syria. Apart from providing basic necessities, the organization works to try to change the laws and rules that limit the opportunities of refugees. Najdeh and Diakonia have initiated a project that aims, through advocacy work and legal assistance, to help Palestinian refugees from Syria to stay legally in Lebanon.

Used to dream about the future

In the al-haj Ahmed family home, fear of being sent back or imprisoned is mixed with memories from the war. 

- As soon as the children see military personnel, they hold on tightly to us. You can see the fear in their eyes, says Sahar, adding that:

- Before, I used to dream about the future. That we would build a big house with a pool where the children could swim. Nowadays, I can’t see any further than the next day.

In Najdeh’s nine centres around Lebanon, both children and adults are given help in processing traumatic memories from the war and the psychological problems that have arisen in its wake.

Sahar fled Syria, here she is with her three month old son Muhammad Magit. Photo: Lina Malers

For Sahar her memories from the war are always present, and she finds it difficult to fend them off after years fleeing in Syria. 

- You can rebuild houses and buildings, but seeing all those dead people in front of you – that’s not something you forget. Wherever I go, I can see those images, she says.

The desperation is tangible

The mental health of the refugees has worsened due to deterioration in their situation when the money from international donors ran out. In December assistance from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNWRA, which is the sole source of income for many Syrian-Palestinian families, is expected to be cut completely.

In provisional camps like the one in which the al-haj Ahmed family lives, the desperation is tangible. Neighbours attempting to find a way to smuggle themselves to Europe visit the family daily.

- There are only three alternatives if the situation here doesn’t improve: die, go back to Syria or keep running, says Faruk.