Our post this week is the translation of an Arabic news email, containing pastor Mounir al-Ajji of Aleppo’s reflections on the situation of Syrian displaced persons in Syria and Lebanon. Nothing expresses better the tragedy and distress that has beset our dear Syrian brothers and sisters than such a poignant account. It is translated and used here by permission.
The Syrian Homeless
By Rev. Mounir Ajji
Since I left Aleppo – that massive prison – three weeks ago, I was able to visit Wadi Al-Nasara, Homs, Damascus and Beirut. While going around, my eyes came upon many scenes I hadn’t seen for months.
The most impressive scene I encountered, particularly in Lebanon – which remained with me, was that of the Syrian “displaced.”
In reality, I had watched during my entire year of “imprisonment” in Aleppo the movement of hundreds of displaced Syrians. And how abundant the tears I shed upon seeing a husband and wife with four children, the oldest of which could not have exceeded six or eight years of age, carrying in plastic bags what they were able to take from their home, sitting on the edge of a sidewalk. The youngest was screaming for his mother’s breast, but the mother was not nursing him perhaps out of embarrassment from the passers-by, or due to her breast milk running out!
Vans were loaded with household items, most of which we would not even keep in our own homes, with women and children sitting on top, and a mother or two weeping all along the way!
During that year, I did not search the Internet for images of displaced persons. The raw images I saw every day, when I left the house and when I returned, inflicted enough pain and destruction on my inner being.
I do not know, perhaps my eyes had gotten used to seeing displaced persons in Aleppo. Or perhaps being homeless in one’s hometown is easier than in a foreign country.
In the Wadi (al-Nasara), all that people talked about was the heavy burden resulting from the huge number of displaced persons, and their resentment towards their unfamiliar habits.
In Damascus, at the church, many came to greet me warmly, revealing to me that they were from Aleppo. They were torn between thanking people for receiving them, yet sensing the burden felt by the people of their host city as a result of the increase in the number of displaced persons.
In Lebanon the scene was entirely different.
At the border, hundreds were waiting, some of them allowed to exit Syria and enter Lebanon, while others were returned from where they had come after being saturated with the burning sun over two or three days, and having lost all they had on transportation fees.
Along the road, cars were waiting, groups of people flanked along the roadsides, tents which at first glance looked like dumped trash, scattered around to the wind.
In Beirut, it was the same scene that had accompanied me during my year in Aleppo. Families and individuals standing at a loss, or sitting around with their heads bent, with barely a few items at their side of no significant material value. That same displaced person in Aleppo usually still had two or three ways to get along. But what recourse did she have here, after losing all possible sources of livelihood? His Lira (Syrian and Lebanese currency) will buy him nothing here, nor will any previous expertise qualify him to get valuable work. She generally has neither relative nor friend to rely upon, so where will she lay down her head?
Hosts vary in the kind and amount of sympathy they feel, generally divided along the same lines as their political sympathies. But political winds in Lebanon blow from all four corners of the earth, and if there were two additional corners, the winds would blow from these too.
Syrians today have cast off all colors of diversity: religious, ethnic, cultural, or geographical. They have put on a single dress and a single color: “homelessness!” Homeless: our numbers are increasing so rapidly that this category may soon include half of our population. Can it be that homelessness and displacement will become our principal descriptor and color, the furthermost ambition that besets us or that we perhaps strive for?
From the land of homelessness, 28 August 2013
Pastor Mounir al-Ajji