There is only one Palestine refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and Palestinians fleeing Syria have, in many cases, had no choice but to scatter among the orchards of Bekaa, along with others seeking safety from the ongoing conflict.
Um Tareq, who arrived in the Bekaa from Syria, settled in a piece of land with cracked walls and no roof. It turned out to be a chicken coop, built to raise poultry, but she covered the open space with nylon and cardboard to keep it dry. Though she cannot use the fireplace and has to walk with her children to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Bar Elias, she is determined to find some normalcy for her children.
In another of those orchards, in Qub Elias, Um Mahmoud and three of her children live in the ground floor of an unfinished store. They arrived in the fall of 2013, fleeing the violence in the Husseinieh camp in Damascus. “The shop isn’t a good place to live,” Um Mahmoud says, noting that the lack of electricity keeps them in darkness unless they open the doors, “but at least there is a ceiling to protect us from the frost and the rain.” The rent is around US$ 200, which UNRWA assistance manages to cover, but “money evaporates in a day, because of price hikes and debts,” she notes.
Um Mahmoud’s challenges don’t end there. On the floor, two of her children are lying under some blankets. She clarifies that it’s not as peaceful a picture as it looks: “My children aren’t asleep, they’re paralysed.” Her family also gets in-kind and medical support from UNRWA, but displacement, poverty and the situation of the children means the family’s situation is precarious.
Some refugees have made it to urban areas in Bekaa, like the town of al-Marj, where an unpaved piece of land on the outskirts of town has filled up with canvas tents. The size of the influx means that each tent can become home to five or more members of a family – like that of Um Ahmed, who fled Yarmouk, in Syria, with four children. They can barely stand up in their tent, but manage to sleep, sit, eat and live there. One daughter, Hana, says simply, “I thank God that we are not homeless.” Um Ahmed has also managed to maintain some hope. She says “If it weren’t for the Agency, no one would be aware of our existence here – we have no state, no land and no breadwinner. But we who endured double displacement thank God first, for his blessings, and UNRWA second, for its generous assistance.”
As of January 2014, around 51,000 Palestine refugees from Syria have reached Lebanon and registered with UNRWA, which needs US$ 90.4 million to respond to their humanitarian needs alone. As UNRWA provides both emergency assistance and regular development programming in health, education and relief, the European Union (EU) has remained a steadfast partner. Since the beginning of the conflict, the EU has provided over EUR 23.9 million (US$ 32.45 million) to support emergency activities in Lebanon, and recently announced a new contribution of EUR 16 million (US$ 21.9 million). In 2013, the EU provided a total of EUR 153.5 million (US$ 209.8 million) to the Agency. Including contributions from EU Member States, 41 per cent of the Agency’s 2013 funding came from Europe.