Burnt out camp in Arsal, Lebanon (August 2014). Picture courtesy of Maggie Tookey
Cut off from the rest of Lebanon and accessible by just one road is Arsal, the battle front with ISIS of which you’ve probably never heard.
Largely abandoned by the Lebanese state, the north eastern town on the border with Syria has had to absorb, at a low estimate, over 80,000 Syrian refugees into its population of just 35,000.
At the height of its security problems, when all other aid groups had pulled out over safety fears, it was a small, volunteer-run Scottish charity, Edinburgh Direct Aid (EDA) that was first on the scene.
Aamer keeps a handwritten note in his bedroom. He found it alongside a donated microwave when he moved to Edinburgh last month. It was a welcome note, whose anonymous writer had wished Aamer all the best in his new life in Scotland.
“Tell me mabruk (congratulations),” she said. “My husband is a hero.” – Basima Atat (Photo courtesy of Kareem Shaheen)
Basima was in love with Adel for five years, engaged for another five, and married for seven. She lost her husband and their six year old daughter lost her father when he tackled an ISIS suicide bomber to the ground.
In the first 6 months of 2015, 137,000 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. The vast majority, according to UNHCR, were “fleeing from war, conflict or persecution.”
A third of those men, women and children who made it across the sea into Italy or Greece were from Syria.
The journey is not for the faint of heart. In April alone, 1,308 people drowned or went missing trying to cross the Mediterranean.
Front page of The National 17/11/15
This was the front page of yesterday’s newspaper. Welcoming the first round of Syrian refugees being brought to Scotland from the camps in Lebanon and Jordan.
By Christmas, around 400 Syrians will be settling into their lives here. Yesterday the first 100 arrived to the rain, the cold and a, by and large, warm reception.
Yet the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon had to stand up in the Scottish Parliament and reassure the Scottish people that those coming had been vetted twice. Once by the UN, then again by the Home Office.
Marwa is from Aleppo in Syria.
The country’s largest city, and one that has suffered greatly in power struggles between the regime and rebel forces. At the time of writing the sole supply route to the regime-held areas of the city has been cut off by an ISIS advance, leaving hundreds of thousands stranded with the price of basic goods sky rocketing.
Lebanon’s story is a complex and difficult one.
I want to share an article (link temporarily removed) I wrote about the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon last summer. Back then the warnings were dire and the government had taken very little action to accommodate what was, at one point, an astonishing 12,000 Syrians crossing into Lebanon per week.
Since then the government has taken action, but not for the benefit of the Syrians. At the start of 2015 the Lebanese government introduced new “visa” rules, designed to slow the flow of refugees across the border.