By Miriam Azar
A Palestinian girl who fled the Syrian conflict with her family tries to adjust to life in a refugee camp in Beirut, but the challenges are many.
BEIRUT, Lebanon, 7 January 2014 – Aya carefully sweeps the floor of the dimly lit room where she, her four siblings and her parents have lived since they arrived in Lebanon from the Syrian Arab Republic.
“I feel pain,” says Aya softly. “My parents are tired and have nothing.”
Despite her constant worry for her parents, 10-year-olf Aya has managed to keep her spirits. Her natural smile and sparkling eyes brighten up the somber room as if to match the glittery reflections of the sequins on her shirt.
Aya is one of about 51,000 Palestinians who have fled the Syrian Arab Republic into Lebanon, according to figures from November 2013. More than half are sheltering in the 12 already overcrowded and impoverished Palestinian refugee camps, some of which have existed since 1948. Living conditions are extremely difficult: houses are damp and unventilated, streets are narrow, and the sewage systems flood regularly in winter.
Prior to the Syrian conflict, Lebanon, a country of around 4.2 million, hosted some 260,000 registered Palestinian refugees. The influx of Palestinians from Syria has strained the already limited resources, weak infrastructure and overstretched services available in these existing Palestinian camps.
Aya remembers when she used to have her own separate room, which had toys and even a computer. Here in Lebanon, she passes time alone in front of the family’s rented room, bouncing a ball.
“We escaped because we were concerned for our children, mainly the young ones,” Aya’s mother explains. “My youngest daughter started to be afraid of everything – she never used to be like that.”
Even in this urban refugee camp in Beirut, fear prevails.
“I am afraid of many things,” says Aya. “If my dad goes out, I worry about him, or my younger brother.”
Aya and her family feel out of place, although they live among fellow Palestinians.
“There is discrimination against us,” Aya’s father says. “If you are Syrian, you are considered different – even though at core, I am Palestinian, of the same flesh and blood as them.”
Like her father, Aya feels isolated in this unfamiliar, restrictive place.
Back in Syria, she used to enjoy walking around. In Lebanon, Aya struggles to find her way through the labyrinth of the camp, as she dodges drooping electricity wires and puddles of water along the twisting paths.
“I look around and find myself in a different place – I have no idea how I got here,” says Aya.
She lets out a long, heavy sigh: “I don t have any friends here.”
Hope for the future
Aya’s parents are putting their hopes on her for a brighter future – they want her to become a doctor. But she and her siblings have not been to school for two years.
“My son doesn’t even know how to hold a pen,” says Aya’s mother.
Aya misses her teacher in Syria. She misses the flowers, birds, going to their garden, and visiting her friends.
“I wish I could be in Syria right now. Now, now!”
After this interview took place, a UNICEF colleague advised Aya’s parents where to register their children for school. Aya now attends grade 4, and her brother attends grade 1 at UNRWA schools in the Palestinian camp.