Nowhere to hide: being a Syrian in Lebanon

Published August 18th, 2012 - 11:31 GMT
Lebanon's Syrian kidnappings bring back memories of Lebanon wars
Lebanon's Syrian kidnappings bring back memories of Lebanon wars

Thousands of Syrians living in Lebanon went through a tough night on Tuesday as news about the mass kidnappings of Syrians spread.

Near Beirut's Sanayeh-Verdun intersection, Amin (11 years old) takes a quick look through the dumpster hoping to find cans, glass, and plastic. Born in the al-Raqqah province in Syria, he smiles when asked about his nationality and doesn’t want to answer until he inquires who is asking and why.

Amin lives in the Basta neighborhood of Beirut. Yesterday he started his day, as usual, at six in the morning. He will try to get back home early if he is able to fill the big sackcloth he is dragging behind him.

Amin’s friends told him about the kidnapping of dozens of Syrian young men, but he isn’t showing signs of fear or panic. Perhaps his childlike appearance protects him.

Mohammad (17 years old), who works in a cafe in Beirut’s Hamra district, lives nearby with a number of his colleagues.

“It’s not the first time that Syrians have been subjected to beatings, kidnapping, and killing. In the past, if things got difficult we would go back to our country, but now where can we go?”“I go straight from home to work and I don’t go anywhere at night,” says Mohammad who comes from Deir Ezzor in Syria, adding that he had not heard of anyone he knows getting harassed: “Hamra is safe, not like Dahiyeh [the southern suburbs of Beirut].”

Muhammad al-Ahmad, who works as a concierge in the town of Bchamoun, reiterates what Mohammad had said. That is why he asked his brother Ahmad, who works as a concierge in the Choueifat area, to come at his home in Bchamoun.

“We want Ramadan to pass peacefully and to be able to celebrate Eid together,” he says, adding “it’s not the first time that Syrians have been subjected to beatings, kidnapping, and killing. In the past, if things got difficult we would go back to our country, but now where can we go?”

“Where can we go?” is on the minds of thousands of Syrian nationals working in Lebanon. Some of them have been living here for years, while others were recently displaced because of the events in Syria.

In the Bekaa, east of Beirut, Syrians have divided the valley into three kinds of areas – friendly, hostile and gray. Getting around in these areas has become a meticulous and dangerous affair.

Syrians carry on with their daily lives as normal in the friendly areas that support the Syrian revolution, like the Western Bekaa, Rashaya, and Central Bekaa, some parts of which have been classified as “gray areas.”

Syrians carry on with their daily lives as normal in the friendly areas that support the Syrian revolution.In the areas classified as hostile, they do not move around, as is the case of agricultural worker Ahmad M. (who comes from the Idlib countryside). He left his work on a farm near the North Bekaa city of Baalbek, taking his employer’s advice to “leave until the situation calms down.”

“Are you Syrian?” was the question that masked men near Chtaura asked M.H.A., who was heading to work at a construction site. “Yes, I told them. But they insisted on knowing whether I was with or against the Syrian regime. I had them listen to my phone ring which praises president Bashar [Assad], so they let me go after hitting me a few times.”

Double nationality holder (Syrian and Lebanese) Housam Khashroum was not lucky enough to receive the mild harassment that M.H.A. experienced. Khashroum was kidnapped near the Chtaura Hospital by unknown people and taken to an unknown destination.

A lot has been said about Housam’s kidnapping in Central Bekaa. The first rumor that came out was that he had been kidnapped for financial reasons, another one said he was kidnapped because he supports the Free Syrian Army (FSA), while the third story said that he was lured away by a girl.

News reports about kidnapping Syrians in the Bekaa were mostly media rumors, but they threw the area into a state of chaos. Five Syrians were kidnapped here...a Syrian was killed there...supporters of the Syrian opposition kidnapped regime loyalists...Syrian oppositionists in the Bekaa Valley kidnapped people from the al-Mokdad family...the Jaafar family snuck into the Homs area and kidnapped a large group of FSA soldiers and they are on their way back...the Lebanese Zeaiter clan kidnapped four wounded Syrians from Bekaa hospitals, and so on. These are some of the stories that spread without any evidence.

In Aley, a sense of caution hovered over members of the Syrian community. A worker from Deir Ezzor said that the Ras al-Jabal area lying between Kayfoun, Souk al-Gharb, and Aley saw a widespread presence of armed men, preventing him from going to work, due to the tense security situation.

Security measures were taken yesterday not only around the houses and palaces of the Saudis and Qataris in Aley, but there were security checkpoints all over the city.Another worker who refused to give his name said that “the security situation is not frightening because of the reassurances we received from the Progressive Socialist Party, which declared that it will prevent anyone from attacking us.”

Sources told Al-Akhbar that “security measures were taken yesterday not only around the houses and palaces of the Saudis and Qataris in Aley, but there were security checkpoints all over the city.”

The mayor of Bhamdoun al-Dayaa, Walid Khairallah, told Al-Akhbar that the statement issued by the municipal council banning Syrian workers from walking around inside the town between 8:00pm and 6:00am has nothing to do with the new security situation but was in reaction to an assault on a seven-year-old-boy by a Syrian worker.

The statement by the Bhamdoun municipality had gone viral on social networking sites, triggering condemnation from people who described it as racist, especially because it was directed solely at Syrian workers.

Soldiers and members of the Turkish unit working within UNIFIL stayed in their headquarters to be on the safe side.Threats against Syrians have not been common in South Lebanon. According to some Syrians, it is because “the Mokdad family did not include the South when they attacked areas, targeting supporters of the FSA.” Others pointed out that towns in South Lebanon do not attract regime oppositionists, given that they are dominated by local forces and parties allied to the Syrian regime.”

Syrian workers and their displaced families in Tyre did not hide their fear of being targeted in revenge attacks because what happened to two men from the area – Louay Mansour from Maaroub went missing in Damascus last week and Abbas Hammoud from Shihin is one of the 11 kidnapped Lebanese men currently being held in Syria. Syrians went to mayors and party officials who reassured them that they would be safe and would not be harmed.

A security source told Al-Akhbar that Syrians in the South have been noticeably appearing in public less over the past few days as they have opted to stay in their places of work and homes.

Turkish nationals almost disappeared from view. Soldiers and members of the Turkish unit working within UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) stayed in their headquarters to be on the safe side, considering the alleged Turkish role in the kidnapping of the 11 Lebanese men.

The Turkish unit, which is involved in several services and projects in many towns in the Tyre district, has minimized its movements since the kidnapping operation of the Lebanese men in Syria took place. Since Tuesday, the Turkish troops have not left their barracks at all.

 

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