The Beqaa Valley in Lebanon is beautiful. It’s flat, lush, green and very pretty. I was there in February and we drove along long, open country roads, passing vineyards and fields.
It was a bit like being on holiday until we reached an area where we could see a few tents. As we approached, we saw that there were, in fact, more than a few tents; there were hundreds.
I say “tent,” though none of them was a proper tent. They were makeshift contraptions, formed of a wooden frame with canvas or vinyl sheeting over the top, which the residents had cobbled together as best they could.
And in each tent was at least one family; more often, two or three families shared a home.
The families who live there are all Syrians who have made difficult and traumatic journeys across the border.
All the parents I met told me of having had possessions taken from them at checkpoints along the way. Children weren’t able to bring their toys. Money and jewelry were confiscated.
One of the hardest stories to hear was from a woman who had arrived at the checkpoint with her husband and children.
The guards decided to let her and the children through but made her husband stay behind. For days, she waited for him to follow her through the border so they could together find somewhere to settle.
Days turned into weeks, then months, and it’s now a year since she’s heard from him. She knows that if she hasn’t heard from him by now, she’s probably never going to hear from him again.
As people travel over the border from Syria to Lebanon, many of them make their way to towns where they try to rent rooms from kind families or team up with another family to rent a flat together.
The people we met in the makeshift camp hadn’t been able to find anywhere to live, so together they made a deal with a farmer who had some spare land and has allowed them to camp there, charging a cheap rent.
It’s a beautiful setting, but it’s cold – there was a lot of snow during the winter – and muddy. We wore “wellies” (rubber boots) on our visit, and the mud splashed all the way up the wellies and onto our jeans.
Women told me that they feel like they spend all their time washing. As soon as they get clothes clean, they hang them up to dry but they quickly become splashed by mud.
And, of course, the water they use to wash the clothes isn’t clean water, so there’s only so much they can do.
There are children everywhere. Hundreds of children live in the makeshift camp with very little food, inadequate sanitation, no healthcare or education, and a lot of trauma.
They sleepwalk or have nightmares; many of them cry when an airplane flies overhead because it reminds them of the shootings, shelling and bombs they heard around them when they were in Syria.
They need a good night’s sleep in warm, safe homes. They need our prayers and they need us to help them get back to school and find a way to move on from the trauma they’ve experienced.
Katie Harrison is head of communications at Tearfund, a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee. A version of this column first appeared in the Baptist Times of Great Britain, and is used with permission.