Keys to nowhere
The Syrian refugees dreaming of home
“I was hoping that we would able to go back one day. But there is no door, no house any more for the key.”
Four years ago, Raem, age 36, and her four children fled their home in Syria. Her husband had already been killed.
“We didn’t decide to leave, we were forced out because of the bombing, it made us leave,” said Raem.
“I managed to bring my keys and my house lease — these were the only things in my purse. I didn’t manage to bring anything else.”
Raem and her children are among over one million Syrian refugees living in neighbouring Lebanon.
If you were in their position, what would you bring when you left your country? Phone, clothes, jewellery, TV, children’s toys?
Or maybe just your keys so you could at least try to go home when the nightmare was over.
But how would you support yourself and your family once you reached safety?
Many Syrian refugees in Lebanon can’t work for legal reasons and those who can often have temporary or low-paid jobs.
The Red Cross supports over 2,000 such families with cash grants to cover essential expenses. Raem and Huda are among them.
“The pressure in Homs had become too much, we literally had to run for our lives. There was no time to bring anything that had any value to our family,” said Huda, a 50-year-old mother of six.
Like Raem, Huda still has the keys to her former home.
“I had a drawer in my living room. It had all our important documents, the house title deed, electricity bills and things like this,” she recalled.
“I just picked them all up and put them in a bag and left. That’s all we have left to remind us.”
The Red Cross cash grants have helped the family cover some of their costs.
“The support had made a huge difference,” Huda said.
“We spend it on needs for the house, for example, rent, electricity and gas. If the assistance stopped, we couldn’t live here, we would not be able to afford to live.”
“Before the war began we had a nice house, I was providing very well for my children,” said former teacher Abdel.
“It was a wonderful life. I would finish work and go home just like the others. We would gather around the table for lunch.”
In 2011, the fighting intensified in Homs, where the family lived. Like many others, they decided to flee.
“We left under fire… I shut the door and I left,” said Abdel.
Abdel and his family now live in Lebanon. Like so many other refugees, they have just the keys and deed to their former home.
The 36-year-old also had to leave behind his teaching career. Instead, he fixes electronic devices in exchange for small payments. Red Cross cash grants help the family keep a roof over their heads and cover basic needs.
“I had no idea that I was leaving the house and never coming back, I had no idea that my house would be destroyed,” Abdel said.
Nestled in her father Hassan’s arms, three-year-old Rabiah holds keys to a home in Syria she has never seen. Rabiah and her baby sister Badaya were born as refugees in Lebanon.
“I left with the clothes on my back,” said Hassan, age 33. “I was supposed to return to gather some things but I was never able to go back.
“We moved and I found some work. Whenever I called home, they told me: ‘Don’t come back.’
“I had to make sure my parents were safe. I asked them to come and join us. My brother came too.”
But the family’s trauma seems to have broken both Hassan’s son, Mohammed, and his father, Ahmed.
Mohammed doesn’t speak or smile and Ahmed was left paralysed by a stroke and has other serious medical problems, leaving him bedbound.
“The Red Cross cash is a lifeline. I try to use this cash only in severe cases but I usually have to spend it on heating, rent and medication,” Hassan said.
“Without the cash, we would struggle very much.”
“I still have hope that things will move forward and we will be able to go home.
“But still I’m afraid to think of that now. If I knew that I could go home and we would be safe, I would leave tomorrow morning.”