[QODLink]
Features

Syrian refugees focus on survival, not Geneva

Thousands of displaced families living in Lebanon are focused on daily concerns rather than peace talks.

Last updated: 24 Jan 2014 17:34
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

Tripoli, Lebanon - As delegates meet in Geneva for a second time to discuss peace in Syria, Lebanese army tanks rolled past bullet-scared buildings in Tripoli's Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh. Watching them pass along Syria Street, men on the sidewalk cheered the news of a deadly explosion in Hezbollah's Beirut stronghold of Haret Hreik on Tuesday.

Armed groups from the Bab al-Tabbaneh suburb, supporters of the revolt against the Syrian regime, have repeatedly clashed with their predominantly Alawite neighbours in nearby Jabal Mohsen, who favour Syrian President Bashir al-Assad.

Abu Al-Baraa, a Salafi sheikh in Bab al-Tabbaneh, dates the ongoing violence back to Lebanon's civil war. But the Syrian war and deadly bombings of two Sunni mosques in Tripoli last August, which killed 47 and injured hundreds, have exacerbated the conflict, leaving civilians terrified and neighbourhoods in tatters.

Spotlight
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

"Lebanon is deeply intertwined with what's happening in Syria," Al-Baraa said. "If the Geneva II talks reach a final resolution where Bashar Assad and the whole regime leave the Syrian republic, then we will definitely have no problems here. But as long as there is a rebellion in Syria, the situation is not going to change."

A follow up to an initial conference in Geneva in June 2012 that lost momentum as soon as it concluded, the Geneva II talks are contentious, with key players such as Iran and major Syrian rebel groups conspicuously absent.

"I think realistically no-one really goes to Geneva expecting a fully formed transitional government to come out of it," said Aron Lund, the editor of the Syria in Crisis website used by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They hope some results will come out of it, whether it's limited progress like some local ceasefires or commonly accepted rules on how to treat humanitarian assistance for cities under siege. That would be progress of some kind.

"The other aspect is perhaps just to get the political process going again, which broke off immediately after Geneva I. In a sense, the Geneva II meeting is really a step on the way to Geneva III, to turn the Geneva conference into something more permanent, by creating a contact mechanism for states."

An estimated 130,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of the conflict in 2011. The United Nations has registered more than 2.3 million refugees outside the country, with at least 800,000 in Lebanon alone. The real numbers are thought to be much higher. Seven leading organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have called the crisis "the worst of our time".

Lebanon has been hit hard by crisis. Complex and conflicting Lebanese and international interests leading to government paralysis, the ongoing Hariri Tribunal, the uptick in sectarian violence, and a worsening economy have deepened the impact of the raging war.

In an overcrowded Tripoli clinic distributing free medical care, Syrian refugees are focused on their daily survival. "I don't know about the Geneva II talks," shrugged Dr Maher Al Kashef from Latakia, who said his patient caseload has skyrocketed. "I don't know what will happen to Syria in the future, and I don't know when we will return to Syria."

In the waiting room, Badour, a middle-aged woman from Homs, said her family now lives near the frontlines of the fighting between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen here in Tripoli. "We are suffering the same thing. We are always afraid and hear the clashes on a daily basis," she said. "I've heard of the Geneva talks, but if they don't remove Assad, what are we going to do? We've lost everything."

Across town, piles of fetid garbage and pools of mud line a dirt track into a makeshift refugee settlement along the coast. Since Lebanon, with an eye to Palestinian camps on Lebanese soil since 1948, has refused formal settlements to house Syrian refugees, vulnerable Syrians are at the mercy of skyrocketing rents in often substandard, exploitative conditions.

Wala'a lies on a narrow mattress in a three-by-three metre single-room concrete structure, with a piece of tattered cloth to hide the toilet. She believes the water has made her ill, and is taking medicine to stop vomiting.

Having arrived from Homs three weeks ago, 20-year-old Wala'a shares the space with four other family members for $200 a month - and they are already in debt.

"We've heard about the Geneva talks and we really hope something comes out of this, but we don't think so," said her widowed mother-in-law, Sabah, who believes they could get arrested by the regime for alleged affiliation with the Free Syria Army (FSA) if they were to return.

And the family is afraid at night. "We came from Syria where we heard nothing but bullets," said Sabah. "And we are hearing nothing but bullets now."

Follow Rebecca Murray on Twitter: @BeccaMurr

822

Source:
Al Jazeera
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
Country
City
Featured on Al Jazeera
Muslim volunteers face questioning and threat of arrest, while aid has been disrupted or blocked, charities say.
Six months on, outrage and sorrow over the mass schoolgirl abduction has disappeared - except for families in Nigeria.
ISIL combatants seeking an 'exit strategy' from Mideast conflict need positive reinforcement back home, analysts say.
European nation hit by a wave of Islamophobia as many young fighters join ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
Featured
Lack of child protection laws means abandoned and orphaned kids rely heavily on the care of strangers.
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Since she was 16-years-old, Scottish Nationalist Party's Sturgeon has strove for independence from the UK.
Armed group's ransom success with German hostages marks a re-emergence, as authorities investigate ISIL links.
Western nations are moving into the resource-rich country after decades of disinterest, challenging China's interests.