I Used to Live in a Palace

I Used to Live in a Palace

Publication info

By
Jaime Shabalina

Sabeen is a Palestinian refugee from Syria who fled to Lebanon a year and a half ago with eight of her children, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.  A son and a brother were left behind in Syria.  The son wanted to join them but was unable to get a visa. He tried to smuggle himself into the country but was arrested, detained for two months, and sent back to Syria.  This family might not be in Lebanon much longer anyway. All family members have expired Lebanese visas and are vulnerable to refoulement, or forced return to Syria.

Life in Refuge - Syria CrisisMost days, the young men in the family linger in the gathering, idle and frustrated, not being able to use their skills or provide for their families, or even to leave these small communities for fear of being identified as illegal.  Yet, prior to the Syrian conflict, Sabeen’s family was quite well off.  Among the properties they owned outside of Damascus were a gas station and twenty shops on a main thoroughfare. With the crisis the economy collapsed, their properties went unrented, and they lost their jobs.  And one day their home was bombed and completely destroyed. They fled carrying with them only a few items of clothing.

When they entered Lebanon a year and a half ago they had some assets which they have since exhausted.  All fourteen recently moved into this two room home, with a rent of $200/month. It rests on the shore and in the winter is entirely flooded, making only one of the two rooms habitable.  To cover rent, two of the sons have been able to find a week of labor each a month, earning a total of about $100 a month for their family.  The family relies on international assistance for all their basic needs. 

Like many of the over one million refugees that have entered Lebanon, in their prolonged displacement they have expended all of their savings. In Lebanon, some families are actually returning to Syria solely because they have run out of funds to pay rent. Thus, in addition to dealing with poverty, poor living conditions, health concerns, and the loss of loved ones and of homes, now many refugees are worried about having to return to Syria. 

Life in Refuge - Syria Crisis