Opinion: Syrian crisis questions our humanity
2017-07-18 12:24:12 -
By Mohammed Samaana

I could not hold back my tears as I listened to the story of a Syrian family who arrived recently as part of the UK government’s resettlement programme. It was an eye-opening as much as it was an eye-watering tale.

As they were forced to flee their homeland amid terrorism and tyranny, they had to stay in Lebanon for three years awaiting the UN’s finding them a country that would accept them as refugees. Needless to say that Lebanon does not have a practical welfare system, but that’s besides Syrians there already being subjected to many forms of exploitation and discrimination.

I was told by the father that his penniless family were asked to pay more than quadruple the normal rent for their Lebanese home. He managed to find a job to pay the rent and feed his family, but says Syrians were given less than half the wages paid to Lebanese workers for doing the same work.

Their problems did not stop there. When one of his children took ill and required medical attention, the hospital refused to treat her unless they paid US$700. This forced the family to sell their fridge and washing machine, which had been donated to them, to have their daughter treated.

The family needed the sickening ‘healthcare’ system again when the father’s brother’s house caught fire and his two-year-old nephew went unconscious from the fumes. This time they ignored the doctor who demanded upfront payment, this time of $1,000, and went to a charitable clinic opened for Syrian refugees by donations from Kuwait.

I told this father that I identify with Syrian refugees. After all, the Palestinian refugees who came to Lebanon in 1948 are still subjected to discrimination. They are barred from owning property and working in as many as 30 professions. 

In the past, hundreds of Palestinians were executed at checkpoints set up by sectarian Christian paramilitaries allied to Israel, singled out because the way they pronounced bandora (tomato in Arabic) identified their background. The same sectarian thugs committed the notorious massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

By no means should this give you the impression of Lebanon as an irredeemably bad country. But I’m not surprised, considering the way Lebanese politics was shaped on a sectarian basis during the French occupation in the 1940s; the president is required to be a Christian Maronite, while the PM must be a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the parliament a Shia Muslim. Let’s also remember that Lebanon is a small developing country, politically unstable and economically weak. Its population has increased from 4.33 million in 2010 to 6.03 million this year, largely due to the influx of refugees from elsewhere in the Middle East.

The story of this one family, however, shows how the entire world has failed the Syrian people. It’s a story that questions the validity of our humanity..

Mohammed Samaana is a freelance writer based in Belfast

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