Hassan's story: "We all have dreams"
By Lynn Hamasni
Although far from the fear and danger of the conflict back home, a Syrian boy faces many struggles living as a refugee in Lebanon.
TAL AL ABIAD, Baalbek, Lebanon, 30 January 2014 – Hassan is 13 years old. He has never been to school.
Hassan is lost between two countries. His father is Syrian and his mother Lebanese, but he does not exist, officially, in either country.
Hassan’s parents did not register his birth in the Syrian Arab Republic. After his parents divorced, the situation became more complex. With no official papers, he and his sisters, who are 16 and 12, were not granted Syrian citizenship. The children could not go to school.
Two years ago, Hassan’s mother decided to bring the family to Lebanon, away from the violence of the Syrian conflict, in the hope that things would be better for her and her children.
“There were shootings and bombings everywhere back home,” recalls Hassan. “I didn’t feel safe. When I arrived to Lebanon, I felt safer. I stayed with Uncle Rabah, who lives here in a tent with his wife.”
“We have no one”
Since the start of the crisis, Lebanon has hosted the largest number of Syrian refugees in the region. According to the UN Refugee Agency, more than 858,000 people have registered or are awaiting registration in Lebanon. The Lebanese government estimates the total number of refugees, registered and unregistered, is more than 1 million.*
Many Syrian refugees coming to Lebanon settle in areas close to relatives or family members who have arrived in Lebanon before them. But Hassan and his mother didn’t have family they could go to. ‘Uncle’ Rabah and his wife took them in and gave them shelter and protection.
“He isn’t actually my real uncle,” explains Hassan. “But he takes care of us as if we were his family and his children. Uncle Rabah arrived in Lebanon in September last year. He helped us because we have no one.”
One day at a time
But shelter is only one of Hassan’s worries. More and more Syrian refugee children have to work to support their families. For them, the prospect of education slips even further down in the list of priorities.
“My mother works as a part-time housekeeper,” says Hassan. “I want to find a job and work to help her. I already worked before as a blacksmith, but I quit because the shop owner was not paying me on time and sometimes not paying me at all.”
Hassan spends his time looking for work. He has tried polishing and cleaning shoes on the street. “But now, with the rain, it is not possible,” he says.
While Hassan has seen much hardship, he still has hopes and dreams. “When I think Syria, I think fear and death,” he says.
“That’s why I want to make something of myself to get over all these feelings. For now, I am just living one day at a time.
“We all have dreams, as human beings – sometimes we fulfil them, and sometimes we don’t. For now, I don’t think; I just play. But, I hope someday I will be able to open a small business or a grocery shop, something to help me settle here and make a living.”
*The Lebanese Government's estimate includes Syrian workers and their families and other Syrians of means who have not registered with UNHCR.