[Published here on March 19, 2017]
Beirut (AFP) – Just before midnight in a sleepy district of Beirut, dozens of Syrian refugees huddle in small groups around bulging suitcases, clutching their pinging cellphones and one-way tickets to Italy.
“Torino! Pronto! Cappuccino!”
They practise random Italian words in a schoolyard in the Lebanese capital’s eastern Geitawi neighbourhood, waiting for the buses that will take them to the airport, and onwards to their new lives in Italy.
[Published here on February 19, 2017]
Burj al-Shamali (Lebanon) (AFP) – Equipped with an inexpensive camera and a big red balloon, Firas Ismail — a 20-year-old Palestinian refugee in southern Lebanon — is not your typical urban planner.
[Published here April 27, 2015 with photos]
Syrian rock bands fleeing war are finding safety and new fans in neighbouring Lebanon, where they are revitalising a Westernised scene with their focus on Arabic musical heritage.
Dozens of Syrian bands and independent artists have now become mainstays of the Beirut music scene, performing emotive and often bleak songs in front of concert-goers eager for fresh faces.
[Published here March 18, 2015]
Perhaps the first thing refugees fleeing a war zone need is medical attention. It is no surprise, then, that Lebanese hospitals have been busier than usual since war engulfed Syria in 2012. According to a recent UNDP study, in fact, in 2014, humanitarian aid inflows focused on Syrian refugees have spurred 1.76 percent in additional growth for the healthcare sector, according to a UNDP study. That year, UN agencies and affiliates supported 180 primary healthcare centers and 65 hospitals throughout Lebanon. With a swell of new patients, particularly in 2013, hospitals have experienced positive growth and have consequently invested in their infrastructure and service provision.
[Published here on March 11, 2014]
The unprecedented rate at which the number of Syrian refugees in the region has grown has caught the world’s attention. After nearly four years of unrest, roughly 1.17 million Syrians are currently registered as refugees in Lebanon — and the number continues to creep up. But an often underreported and misunderstood figure is the number of those who have had their refugee status deactivated. During 2013 and 2014, at least 137,000 Syrians lost active refugee status with UNHCR, the agency managing the international response to the refugee crisis. Vague and noncommittal statements to the press by UNHCR, coupled with sudden and at times brash government announcements on the topic, have added to the confusion. With growing government involvement in registration and deactivation, human rights agencies have expressed concern that Syrian refugees will not continue receiving appropriate protection in Lebanon.
In February, I had the opportunity to work on an essay to accompany photos by an amazing photographer and friend, Felipe Jacome. He took dramatic portraits of Syrian refugee parents in Lebanon and their children, who are often at risk of becoming stateless. One of the women, Dina, told me her story.
It’s published in Al Jazeera Magazine, an elegant publication that’s only available for download on phones and tablets. Check out the little preview below, and click the link to download the magazine.
‘I’ll tell you the story of how we left Syria,’ Dina begins. ‘We got to the last Syrian checkpoint before the border point. ‘Where are you going?’ they asked me. ‘To Lebanon? You can’t go. [The border guard] forced my kids out of the car and pointed his gun at them. He cocked the gun and pointed it at my kids.’ Her voice breaks and tears roll down her cheeks, but Dina continues. ‘The driver tried to calm him down. The border guard said, ‘No, I’ll gun you down and every single one of these kids.’ We got back in the car. I looked at whatever money I had and gave it to him, begging, kissing his hands.’
[Published here on January 29, 2015] After decades of a relatively open border policy with its eastern neighbor, the beginning of 2015 saw Lebanon take unprecedented steps to monitor the entry and residency of Syrian nationals. Spearheaded by the ministries of interior and social affairs, the policies are an attempt to regulate the nearly 1.2 million Syrians already in Lebanon — as well as others seeking entry in the future.
The first of these measures came in the form of new visa requirements for Syrians and went into effect on January 5, 2015. Despite political pushback and concerns by human rights groups, Lebanese authorities insist this new policy is only the beginning.