We kept on walking and walking until we got to safety. But we were exhausted, we thought we were going to die.
Riad, 42, his wife Thourayya and their seven children are from Raqqa, in Syria. Riad used to work in construction in Lebanon until he fell from a three-story building in 2013. He had to cross the border and seek medical treatment, (with no other option than) leaving his family behind.
When Daesh arrived in their hometown, one year later, their situation deteriorated dramatically. “Every day was worse than the previous one. Daesh confined us in our homes and locked us inside; we couldn’t even go out to buy some bread,” says Thourayya. “We had to cover ourselves up [...] and we could go out for five minutes and come back, to bring food. [...] This was the situation until the war started for real and the aviation was above us, so we ran away.”
Once, she was chased by someone from Daesh on the street because her veil was not completely covering her. “I was a month and a half pregnant or two months, and I went out and got ambushed by Daesh. They were asking why I wasn’t completely covered… only my eyes were showing so they asked me why I hadn’t covered them,” explains Thourayya. She wasn’t feeling well because of her pregnancy, and so she had gone out to get some medications, but the experience was really traumatising. “I was ambushed, I was able to get away by hiding here and there but I got scared, really scared, I was pregnant [...] and terrified and this affected the child in my belly and caused his disability.”
Once the bombing started, Thourayya, who had had her baby just a month and a half before and had not yet recovered from her C-section, decided it was time to leave: she took her children and attempted to flee by boat. Unfortunately, in the middle of the journey, they were asked to get off the boat and to continue on their own. “We kept on walking and walking until we got to safety. But we were exhausted, we thought we were going to die.” she continues. She had to carry all her children, terrified for their lives and asking herself if they were going to survive. It took them almost four days to cross the mountains and join Riad.
Their family has been living in a tent in a camp in Bar Elias, Lebanon for the past three years, but their situation is still very tough: besides their inability to pay their debts, they cannot afford to buy clothes and can barely afford any food. Work is tough to come by, especially considering the fact that Riad cannot work as his spine was damaged during the fall. One of their children is disabled and needs medical attention, and their daughters’ 8 hours of work on potato fields only allows them to get 4 USD a day, which is not enough.
Yasmin, one of their daughters, cannot go to school and has to work instead. “My work is tiring. I work in a field and we have to be on our feet all day long and the boss is on our backs all the time,” she explains. Yasmin does not like working and would rather be able to go to school like her peers, but she understands that “there is a debt we need to cover, so we have to work if we want to go back to our country.”
Life is not simple for children like Yasmin, who witnessed the destruction war brings with itself. “Last year there was a fire. The young one and his older sister saw it from afar and they were really shaken, because they remembered what had happened back then in Syria,” says Riad. “It triggered their memory and they couldn’t stop crying no matter how much we tried to reassure them. They only calmed down once the fire was put out.”
Their life is barely sustainable but they hope the situation in Syria will get back to normal. “Safety is the most important thing now,” says Thourayya. “We just hope for the country to be safe again so we can go back,” continues Riad.
Riad and his family have now access to direct assistance offered by the World Food Programme, but it’s not enough. Even if the children could get access to education, Riad and Thourayya decided to keep them at home instead: “We can’t let them go to school in these conditions, they would be humiliated. They would get jealous of their peers if they saw them wearing nice clothes while they are not, and it would cause them more harm than good, so it is better if they just stay home,” explains Thourayya.
With the support of the EU Trust Fund, the World Food Programme (WFP) is tackling situations like this and offer direct assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian refugees, while providing technical assistance to support national systems in implementing safety nets.