By Suraj Patel
Syrian refugees in El Qaa, Lebanon, 30 meters from the border with Syria
Over 8,000 displaced Syrians have streamed into north Lebanon since the beginning of Syrian President Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown of Sunni rebels. While the violence in Syria continues unabated, Syrian refugees who managed to escape Assad's forces paint a gruesome picture of abuses and killing of civilians and military-aged men that some have compared to Srebrenica.
What is surprising, however, is that despite the rapid influx of Syrians into northern Lebanon -- more than 3,000 last month alone -- there are no major refugee camps in northern Lebanon. Instead, displaced Syrians are being "absorbed" into predominantly Sunni northern Lebanese villages. According to the UNHCR, the majority of the refugees reside with "host families" rather than in camps -- a welcome development, since refugee camps are often characterized by overcrowding and permanent slum-like conditions.
Photojournalist Steven Wassenaar, who recently visited the Bekaa Valley, describes the relations as being very close between the new arrivals and existing Lebanese due to strong Sunni to Sunni solidarity in northern Lebanon.
Family of Syrian refugees who arrived on March 4 in the village Wadi Khaled, Lebanon
El Qaa, border between Lebanon and Syria. Syrian refugees have to cross this border, a very hazardous move because of landmines
Against the backdrop of this political history is the complicated reality of great income inequality between the Lebanese and Syrians. Syrians in Lebanon often work as working class laborers and migrant workers in construction and farming. In northern, predominantly Sunni Lebanon, however, Syrian migrants have been working and traveling between the countries for years, doing business and trading with local Lebanese as one people. In fact, many Syrians who worked in the construction industry as migrants before the conflict are now living in the same unfinished homes they were helping to construct.
Family of Syrian refugees who arrived in March in the village El Fakha, Lebanon, after escaping violence in Zahra (Syria). They now live in a house that is still under construction.
Syrian refugees who live together with other families in a school, Wadi Ghaled, Lebanon
Most of the men who did make it to Lebanon vow to go back and fight against the Assad regime once they situate their families. Others find work, but plan to return after Assad's government falls.
Hamzi is a 9-year-old boy who was injured after an exploding shell in Zahra made him fall. He is part of a family of Syrian refugees who arrived in March to the village of El Fakha, Lebanon, after a bombardment on March 9th, 2012 that destroyed their house in Zahra.
Special thanks to Steven Wassenaar for the use of these photographs. For more images, please see his website. Wassenaar's work treats themes such as (post)- conflicts situations, exclusion, poverty and immigration. He recently worked in Syria, Lebanon, DR Congo, Rwanda and Mali. He collaborates with NGOs such as Médecins du Monde and Solidariré Sida and publishes in newspapers and magazines from Holland and France. Steven Wassenaar is a member of the NVJ (Dutch Association of Journalists) and the NVF (Dutch Association of Photojournalists).
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