Snakes and Ladders on World Refugee Day

Emergencies article written on the 20 Jun 2014

How you would cope as a Syrian refugee in Lebanon?

Nour*, 45, works at a school in northern Lebanon. The nursery school continued to run classes for Lebanese children and Syrian refugees despite being on the front line of a long-running conflict between neighbourhoods. Fighting has intensified in recent years, mirroring the Syrian crisis just over the border, but a recent ceasefire is finally allowing Oxfam and its partner to deliver emergency assistance.

“The recent clashes have had a huge impact on the children,” Nour said. “There were snipers on either side of the school and bullets coming directly into the classrooms. When the fighting started, the children were so scared – some of them would faint and others cry until it was safe to go outside and their parents came to collect them. It would happen so suddenly. Children, two to six year olds, would be sitting in class and the next moment they were running to the corridors to lie on the floor.”

But while a tentative ceasefire holds, hundreds of children play snakes and ladders in a conflict-shattered playground, chase balloons and become unrecognisable creatures thanks to a splash of face paint.

Oxfam is working with a local organisation to repair and construct latrines in the damaged homes.

Water engineers are installing and repairing water pipes, tanks and taps to get water flowing again after fighting stopped. The team has also been distributing hygiene kits, latrine kits, environmental kits, water filters and water storage containers. An event last month brought together refugees and the community for games and discussion.

Staff and volunteers found fun ways to teach the children about good hygiene practices, including hand washing. Lebanese and Syrian parents took the opportunity to sit and eat together on the steps at the side of the playground while their children ran frantically around, and talked to the NGO staff about what would make their life a little bit better. 

Life is certainly not a party on the former front line – nicknamed Syria Street – but Oxfam is helping people clear debris and rebuild essential services.

“There is now a ceasefire in place – it will hold, Inshallah,” said Nour. “We have work to do on the school before the children come back after the summer – the water needs to be running and the bullet holes patched up, broken windows mended. All we can do is hope and pray that it will last.”

More refugees fleeing

Despite the risk of renewed violence, many living in the neighbourhood are Syrian refugees seeking safety. Dima* fled Syria just four days ago and is in real need of humanitarian assistance.

“A year a half ago the Syrian army arrested my husband, so we couldn’t go out. We stayed with my husband’s parents, but my father-in-law was also detained. We had to come to Lebanon in the end – my parents fled here and my mum is sick,” she said.

Dima and her friend Afra* discuss their life in Lebanon. “There is some good and some bad,” Afra said. “Sometimes walking down the street, people say they wish we never came here. This event is very much appreciated – it’s time for the kids to have fun. It’s a good time for us to forget about our burdens.”

Waleed lives close to Syria Street, but grew up in Homs in Syria.

“I owned a supermarket, I was milk distributor, we were living in a great situation back in my hometown of Homs. Today, they told me that everything is destroyed and all my belongings are stolen. I have nothing left.

“I hope we don’t re-witness the war extending to here and we start the loss, the suffering and displacement all over again.”

Take action

This World Refugee Day call on the Australian Government to give its fair share to the people of Syria – people like Dima, Afra and Waleed. You can be part of a nation-wide movement calling for Australia to take action.

* In order to protect their identities these are not their real names.