GO Policy and Research Officer, Faeezah Hussain, travelled to Lebanon in May as part of our hygiene pack distribution for Syrian women in refugee camps. This World Refugee Day, she reflects upon her time in Bar Elias and meeting courageous women like Bara’a, a mother of three who still experiences trauma and anxiety when recalling the birth of her youngest child.
[/fusion_text]The word refugee
is a dirty word. It strips her of her human – it takes away her name, her favourite colour, her homeland and leaves her with a number. That number is 65.6 million and counting. The word refugee denotes not just a second-class citizen, but a person who was born free but then constrained to a second-class citizen status before being left with no home and no rights.
I visited Bar Elias for the second time in a year last May, which shelters over 300,000 families living in the dry arid heat in the Bekaa Valley. Hundreds of small children run between tents and get tangled between grown-up’s legs, playing and shaking our hands. There are six of us from our team, including Tariq a filmmaker, visiting the camps as part of our distributing efforts of hygiene packs.
A year later
It’s my second visit after almost a year, and I am trying to remember where everything is.
The families here must see thousands of people passing through the camps all year round, bringing food, coming to look inside their tents and playing with their children. But a little girl runs up to me and pulls on my hand and asks me: “Do you remember me?”
Of course, I do. This very spot was the last place I saw her almost a year ago. It made me realise how in a year so much has changed for the rest of us. We have transformed and moved on but Huda was still here, just a little bit more nine years old and a little bit taller. And this would happen, again and again, walking through the same rows of tents and seeing the same faces, still here, still recognising me and still waiting for something different to happen.
Her name is Bara’a
During the distributions of the hygiene packs, I met a beautiful woman named Bara’a who lives in a small tent under the dry, arid heat with her three children and husband. We asked her if we could tell her story and she agreed. She welcomed us into her tent – the inside of which consisted of flat mattresses on the ground with a few scattered pillows. This is where they would all sleep, eat and host their guests. I noticed a small pretty silver tray on the floor with a little silver teapot and a small pot of za’tar, which is common to Arab hospitality. Despite being displaced, Bara’a still tried to make this basic tent into a home.
A mother’s struggle
Her two boys and little girl sat in a row behind her, silent, upright and bambi-eyed whilst they listened to their mum recount the horror of fleeing Syria whilst pregnant with her daughter and how she feared the hospital would be bombed whilst she was on the delivery table. Fighting back tears and hands shaking, Bara’a told us how God has given her children as a blessing, but she wished she wasn’t having a baby in these circumstances: “You want the child, but you don’t want the child.
Bara’a was too physically and mentally exhausted to breastfeed her daughter, and when she didn’t have anything to feed her baby daughter, she would mix either sugar or biscuits in water to replicate the sweetness of milk. Her children aged three, four and five all wet the bed from the trauma of rockets and bomb blasts, and the eldest still cannot speak properly. She told us how the life of a Syrian is a difficult one and thanked us for not forgetting about her.
It could be anyone of us at any time
When we asked her about Syria before the war, she said ‘it was heaven’. She lived in a big house with two big rooms and a garden where her children would play without a care in the world. No one ever asks to live in these situations. Definitely not Bara’a, who dreams of a better life and wants her children to go to school. World Refugee Day is every day. And we are all Bara’a.
On Refugee Day, I also can’t help but remember how the victims and survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy have now become dispossessed and displaced. That could also have been anyone of us at any time, and it still can. It just reminds me of just how volatile our idea of ‘peace’ and ‘security’ is.