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Awoken by gunfire: a Syrian father’s perilous journey from war to safety in Lebanon
None of us ever expect to be woken-up suddenly by the sound of bombs and gunfire – but that is the horror that has forced many Syrian families to rapidly leave their homes to flee the inhuman indifference of war.
It was the very real terror that faced Syrian farmer Ahmed*, his pregnant wife and their five children, who were all sleeping peacefully in their house in a usually quiet village that fateful day.
Woken by the sound of gunfire
“I woke up at 5am. I could hear the bombing and gunfire. It was very close,” recalled the 38-year-old, who did not want his name revealed or his face pictured for security reasons.
“I woke everyone up and left the house and haven’t been back since.”
Ahmed* said they used their family car, threw some bags of clothes in it and then drove non-stop “from village to village” trying to find a safe place away from the conflict.
I wanted to keep my family alive and secure. Why would I stay anywhere where my family are not safe? We were looking for somewhere to go and thought of the capital, but thought that the war might reach there too.
The very real fear of death
Ahmed* was in tears as he described the hardship that he, his family and many other refugees went through as they sought safety while travelling through their country – and the very real fear of death that they felt.
Sometimes adults didn’t eat so that we could feed our children. There was a lack of bread. We once had a normal home, a peaceful life and then this became our reality.
Ahmed* also recalled losing many other people close to him as they too tried to flee the violence that has plagued Syria. “I lost cousins and many friends. One of my cousins was shot while trying to leave his village with my uncle,” he said with a deep sigh of despair.
He said they heard that many people were fleeing to Lebanon, where many Syrians had previously worked just over its northern border, and that they felt safe there.
“Just before the border we were told that another car would be waiting for us to take us to Lebanon,” said Ahmed*. “We were scared and covered in dust. A pick-up truck came and took us down this mountainous road. We hoped we would reach safety.”
Arriving to safety in Lebanon
Ahmed* and his family made it uninjured into neighbouring Lebanon and his wife has since given birth to their sixth child. They were provided with accommodation in one of the many settlements dotted across northern Lebanon where aid agencies like Concern Worldwide provide a number of crucial services, such as water, tents and latrines, and supports to Syrian refugees.
Ahmed* said he still fears for his children’s future, but hopes that they can all one day return to their home.
“If I know the situation is better and that it is safe, I will go back,” he said. “We would prefer to go back to our home. We had three bedrooms, a kitchen and a salon. It’s my home.
“Here [in Lebanon] we have had a lot of help, but I miss my house, my village, the people.”
Highest per capita ratio of refugees in the world
Lebanon – which has a landmass smaller than Northern Ireland – is today home to over 1.5 million Syrian refugees, which is 25 per cent, or one in four, of its population of 5.9 million.
The former French colony, which suffered from a long civil war of its own between 1979 and 1990, hosts the highest per capita ratio of refugees in the world. This has created vast challenges for the authorities and people of a country whose unique national flag contains the Cedar Tree, which is a symbol of peace, longevity and hope.
Concern Worldwide launched its response in Lebanon in May 2013 and has become a key humanitarian player in its northern region of Akkar, which is the country’s poorest area where it shares a long border with Syria.
Ahmed* described what has happened in his country in recent years as a “great tragedy.”
“My children need safety, education, to be healthy. I think about it, but I try to continue on and stay positive,” he said.
*name changed for security purposes