[QODLink]
Al Jazeera World

'This home is like a prison'

Undocumented migrants and refugees in Lebanon reflect on the trials of a rootless and helpless existence.

Last updated: 25 Feb 2014 09:48
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Thousands of Syrians have fled into neighbouring Lebanon since the conflict began in 2011 [EPA]

Since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, thousands of refugees have flooded across the border into Lebanon.

But for years before that, undocumented migrants from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan have been making the hazardous journey there in the often vain hope of being relocated to other countries by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In the Al Jazeera World film A Passage to Nowhere, we meet migrants from Sudan, Iraq and Syria who dream of making a better life for themselves abroad.

Here, we hear about their struggles, their difficult journey towards finding a better life, why they come to Lebanon in the first place, their alienation from mainstream society, and their prolonged wait to have their cases processed.

Usama al Qadiri, Lebanese journalist 

"The transfer process is quite inhuman. The refugees are transferred in farm vehicles or mini-vans. They're camouflaged, like a kidnap[ping].

"They enter Syria legally but then the smugglers camouflage them to exit Syria. They use the same trucks as they do for carrying fruit and vegetables. They make the refugees lie down in the pick-ups and then cover them with empty fruit and vegetables boxes pretending they’re importing fruit.

"Then the Lebanese smuggler gets involved. He agrees a price with the Syrian smuggler. The most expensive is a Sudanese refugee because of the dark skin. They think that black people are more of a security risk than others.

"The Lebanese smuggler then hands them over to a guide to help them through the area between the Lebanese and Syrian borders. That's about 8km on foot. It's not easy.

"The mediator first starts to make the potential refugee think badly of their own country. Poverty, political oppression and so on. To profit, the smuggler convinces the refugee that UNHCR will arrange asylum for them in Europe or somewhere other than Lebanon. So this becomes then the refugee's dream."

Hussam Malek, Iraqi refugee

"If I had everything in my country, I wouldn't have travelled here and left my own country and people.

"I live in a playground with my friend who has thankfully allowed me to stay with him.

"I am hoping for a solution soon. This situation needs sorting out. "I'm tired. I can't stand it anymore. When I came to Lebanon I weighed 78kg. Now, I'm down to 60kg. I've lost a lot of weight because of thinking too much and getting upset.

"I don't want much. I only want to live a simple life here. I want to work, to feel I'm doing something useful."

Salah Bader El Din, Kurdish Syrian refugee

"A decision [was made] to dismiss my three kids from school; it's because we're against the Syrian regime. This is how civilised the Lebanese education ministry is!

"Anahita, Razan and Halima have been dismissed from school. It would be better if they killed me. I'm not better [off] than those kids who were killed in Qusair, Homs, Qamishli, Amuda and Daraa. The UN should do something about it.

"Kids in Qusair, Homs and Daraa being killed? What more? And our kids are being dismissed from school. Where's the UN? What about the political refugees?

"I'm an opponent of the Syrian regime, a political refugee. But why do my kids have to pay for it? Come and face up to me. They've deprived us of the right to receive medical treatment. What's the UN doing?"

Talal Yousef, Lebanese police captain

"Some of these refugees come to Lebanon and later go to a third country. There's a UNHCR office in Beirut. Lebanon also has a long border with Syria. Smugglers use this for the illegal entry of refugees after they reach Syria.

"It's easy because Arabs don't need a tourist visa to enter Syria. Lebanon also grants Iraqis visas on arrival at the airport. Lebanon hasn't signed the Convention on the status of refugees agreed in Geneva in July 1951 and followed by a protocol in 1967.

"So Lebanon isn't geared up for refugees fleeing for social, economic and demographic reasons. And then there's the extra problem of Palestinian refugees."

Mahmoud Banko, Syrian refugee

"Why are Arabs always looking to go abroad? Why leave their countries? It's hard to say.

"It's because of our political regimes. I had a small business back home; and I have kids. I had to leave my country and come to Lebanon. I have friends here. Now I work in Lebanon.

"Refugees don't come to Lebanon for fun. They've had to leave their own countries to start have a life even if it’s here in a tent.

"It's difficult for someone to move from one house to another in the same country. How about the refugees who come here with no belongings? It's hard."

Zeina Ayoub, social worker at Amel Civil Rights Association

"Refugees come to Lebanon thinking it will be like America. They gradually discover it is tough to live here. Yes, it is an Arab country but it is not home.

"When a refugee gets accepted to go to North America, they’re thrilled. But they don't know what they’re in for. It's still not home. We first start working with the refugees. We don't offer financial help.

"We provide professional training and social activities to help them cope with life here.

"These people have come from other places and belong to different cultures."

Ikhlas Jumaa, Sudanese refugee 

"I don't like it [in Lebanon]. Even my children ask me why we don't move out. If this house were in Sudan, I wouldn't hate it like that.

"But in Lebanon, I wish I could leave it as soon as possible because I hate living here.  

"I've been living in Lebanon for 10 years. But it was five years before I could phone my family. Now I call them every month or two. They live in the Nuba mountains and have poor communications there. They've finally sent me some photos, after 10 years.

"I've never seen three of my siblings as they were born after I left Sudan. The other three were very young when I left. One was six years but now he's 16. Another was four, now she's 14. The youngest was two when I left. I was thrilled to get their photos after 10 years.

"I have no plans in Lebanon. I don’t want to live here, I want to travel abroad and no longer be a refugee in Lebanon. This home is like a prison, even though I can go out."

Dana Suleiman, UNHCR official

"The UNHCR has to abide by restrictions set by the resettling countries, their standards. There are also restrictions set by countries that have paid for the UNHCR programme here for many years.

"This waiting time can be very long here in Lebanon and the situation for refugees is difficult. But none of this is enough to meet the demands of all refugees.

"I'm not saying our work is perfect. We understand the real suffering of the refugees. We feel for them. But we are doing our best, despite the restrictions, to satisfy the refugees registered here.

"There aren't many job opportunities and it's difficult to start a new life in here. Lebanon has never signed the 1951 Geneva Convention for refugee protection; so it is a difficult time for the refugees."

Watch more on   A Passage to Nowhere

Al Jazeera World  can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Tuesday: 2000; Wednesday: 1200; Thursday: 0100; Friday: 0600; Saturday: 2000; Sunday: 1200; Monday: 0100; Tuesday: 0600.  

Watch more  Al Jazeera World
  

1610

Source:
Al Jazeera
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
UNHCR says hundreds of people trapped in Yaloke town risk death if they are not evacuated to safety urgently.
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Featured
Long-standing dispute over Christian use of the word 'Allah' raises concerns about a very un-Merry Christmas.
The threat posed by ISIL has prompted thousands of young Kurds to join the PKK.
Baja California - with its own grim history of disappeared people - finds a voice in the fight against violence.
Russian feminist rockers fight system holding 700,000 - the world's largest per capita prison population after the US.
Weeks of growing protests against Muslims continue in Dresden with 15,000 hitting the streets last Monday.
join our mailing list