Meet one of Lebanon’s smallest Syrian refugee communities

Ashqout, Lebanon – In a small town called Ashqout, not far from one of Lebanon’s most famous and lavish ski resorts, Faraya village, is an informal Syrian refugee settlement.

The camp, in the predominantly Christian region of Mount Lebanon, houses 42 people who fled Aleppo in 2014 to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in the north.

A year later, they decided to move to Ashkout, hoping to find better work opportunities.

“The conditions in the Bekaa were terrible,” Alaa al-Hamidi, one of the Syrian refugees living in the camp, told Al Jazeera, before adding that living among in a smaller community has been “safer”, especially for the women in his family.

“The first camp we arrived at was heavily populated and our women couldn’t move freely or spend time outside the tent,” he said.

While life there may be safer, al-Hamidi said economic conditions are just as bad in Mount Lebanon. Syrian refugees in Lebanon can only obtain work permits to work in the agriculture and construction sectors.

Like the rest of the community, he works in the tomato fields for six months. For the remaining half of the year, the father-of-two waits for the fields to defrost.

“In the summer, we work in the landowner’s tomato fields but during the winter we have no work,” the 26-year-old said.

Working in the fields is the only way the community is able to afford their stay and pay rent for the eight tents that house them.

In the summer, we work in the landowner’s tomato fields but during the winter we have no work

Alaa al-Hamidi

Ashqout’s refugee community say the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has not been assisting them for the past three years.

Upon moving to the area, they were provided with tarpaulins and wood to support the tents’ structures. But following two almost consecutive winter storms that hit the country last month, residents are demanding new material to renovate, as many of their tents have been damaged by rain and snowfall.

Rateb al-Hamidi, Alaa’s older brother, said his tent collapsed onto his family of four during the first storm, dubbed Storm Norma. The community helped rebuild his shelter but he said more needs to be done to protect the fragile structures from collapsing again.

According to the UNHCR, 574 campsites, housing more than 22,000 people, were affected by Storm Norma. 

The tents have either completely collapsed or were flooded with rain and wastewater from nearby septic tanks.

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