Lebanon turns back Palestinians fleeing Syria
Palestinian refugees fleeing the violence in Syria have been refused entry into Lebanon for three weeks now. Since Aug. 6, according to Human Rights Watch, the Lebanese government has turned back Palestinians, who had originally sought refuge in Syria when they were forced from their homes in 1948 and 1967, and are now fleeing once more with their descendants, this time from the conflict in Syria. A source at the Lebanese General Security confirmed to IRIN news agency that the government is no longer letting Palestinians from Syria into Lebanon. Makram Malaeb, program manager for the Syrian response at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said exceptions would be made for "humanitarian cases."
According to the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, more than 92,000 Palestinians from Syria have already sought refuge in Lebanon, joining the 455,000 Palestinian refugees hosted in Lebanon before the Syrian crisis, largely in overcrowded slums that have often been hotbeds of unrest.
Ahmed, 28, was living in Syria's Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees with his wife and three children when the conflict in Syria broke out. He told IRIN his story:
I was displaced from my house six months ago after the shelling of Yarmouk. I had to move to several areas due to the fighting. One month ago, I checked on my house, and discovered I had lost my shop and house because of the shelling. On August 3, I decided to send my family [to Lebanon] after my children started to suffer from war trauma. They had nightmares all the time and cried every time they heard an explosion. I sent them to join their cousins in Baalbek camp, while I waited for my travel documents to be renewed.
I looked for a job, but couldn’t find one. On August 13, I decided to join my family after I lost everything in Syria. I went to the border.
The journey between Lebanon and Syria is risky, not because there is shelling but because we have to face the Shabiha [pro-Assad Shia militia] all the time. I was traveling on a minibus with 16 other people. They could have arrested us at any moment if we didn't bribe them.
We had to cross several checkpoints, and when we reached Syrian customs, I waited long hours and paid a bribe. Eventually, they allowed me to pass after interrogations on who I know and the purpose of my visit to Lebanon.
When I crossed over to the Lebanese customs, I was surprised by the lines of Palestinians waiting to cross. We were pushed and beaten by customs officers. We were treated like animals by the General Security.
The first day of my arrival [at the Lebanese border post], I had to wait in line to take my turn for more than 11 hours, and then I was sent back [to the Syrian border post]. We were told to stay [in no man’s land] until they allowed us in, but nothing happened.
During my two days at the border, I tried to bribe Lebanese security to enter. They were about to arrest me for offering a bribe, but I did it because I wanted to find a solution for my family, scattered between Lebanon and Syria.
After waiting for two days, I lost hope of entering Lebanon and decided to return to Syria. I went back to Damascus, where I'm now living in the entrance of a school in a small kiosk at the main gate. I'm waiting for my family to return—to live and die in dignity rather than being humiliated by Lebanese customs. I call them every day asking them to return, but they refuse. If just to enter Lebanon, all this happened to me, how I can live and raise my children in such a country?
First we were refugees in Syria, and now we are seeking refuge in Lebanon… Like many other Palestinians, I feel we are double refugees.