For Syrian refugees in Lebanon, a drive to build community amid pressing challenges

Communities spring up in the buildings and spaces where families manage to find a spot. Many refugees say their hope is in giving their children a better future.

By Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, published in The Christian Science Monitor, February 27, 2017

Beirut, Lebanon—I remember Syrian children living by a garbage dump near a cement factory where their parents did menial labor when I visited Lebanon three years ago. I remember those living in an unfinished shopping mall with open storefronts, several families camped in a space supposed to be a shop, except that the developer had run out of money and never finished the building. Now he could collect rent from the refugees.

Syrian refugees were pouring into Lebanon in 2014, fleeing the civil war. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and nongovernmental organizations were scrambling to register and provide services for these families, most of whom hoped to return to Syria when the war was over. Because Lebanon has a history dating back to the Palestinian diaspora of not providing camps for refugees, the displaced were finding shelter wherever they could. The effort to get children into schools was beginning. One aid worker described the situation as trying to give cups of water to people from a blasting firehose.

I recently returned to Lebanon to visit the Syrian refugees. I was in Beirut when President Trump’s edict on immigration and his ban on all Syrian refugees to the United States was announced. The ban included Syrian families in Lebanon who had been going through the long vetting process to resettle in the US.  Lebanon has the largest percentage of refugees given its population – more than 1 million registered in a country of 4.5 million citizens.

The situation in Lebanon remains deeply challenging, with pressing needs. But it has stabilized. The flow of people across the border is now a trickle, not a flood, and the systems to assist are more firmly in place. When the refugee population hit the 1 million mark, Lebanon changed its open border policy. But the Syrian refugees remain more than 20 percent of Lebanon’s population, the equivalent of 64 million in the US. Last year the United States accepted 10,000 Syrian refugees out of an estimated 4.8 million worldwide.

(Click here to read the rest of the article at The Christian Science Monitor.)



  1. Betsi Shays says:

    This morning Mike Barnacle, discussing proposed changes to Obama-care, said something like this: the toughest job in America is being poor, especially if you’re raising a family.

    Well, after reading this article, he might add: being a refugee and poor is the toughest job in the world.

    You stirred our hearts, once again, and made us FEEL for fellow beings on the planet, facing situations most of us cannot imagine. While it is heartening to know there are organizations on the ground to help – and a country (Lebanon) willing to take in a million Syrians – one of the most fundamental yearnings humans have is for ‘home’. And safety. And normalcy.

    Bless all those who are helping, and bless the families who, every day, are doing their best to make it all work.

  2. Patricia Griffith says:

    I just read your excellent piece on Lebanon. You so clearly presented the situation. Thanks for sharing it. I have never been to Lebanon and would love to go one day. You focused on people, not politics, and that was refreshing.

  3. Kate Blackwell says:

    I’ve been meaning to write and tell you what a fine job you did on the refugee story. It was a view I haven’t seen. Beautifully written, heart rending.

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