*“Disasters like this can bring out the worst in people,”***** says Neji*, a 25-year-old Syrian refugee in Beirut. He has faced a life of chaos and conflict for the last 6 years and feels increasingly unsafe as the situation in Lebanon deteriorates.
To make the lives of people like Neji more bearable and dignified, the European Union and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) have been repairing homes and providing cash-for-rent support.
Story by Racha El Daoi, Communications Manager, NRC Lebanon
On 4 August 2020, Beirut was devastated by a massive explosion. On this day, Neji and others in his neigbourhood saw smoke rising from the port, less than 1 km away from where he lives. Soon they were in the middle of the worst explosion in the history of Lebanon.
“In a few seconds, our lives turned upside down,” says Neji. “It was tremendously loud, and the pressure wave threw people off the ground. Glass shattered everywhere and concrete bricks were falling around us from the buildings that were collapsing.”
“At first I thought that a missile had been fired at the port, so I needed to get away. Slowly, I realised that wasn’t the case,” Neji continues. “In Syria, I experienced a lot of bombings but nothing I saw there can be compared to this explosion. It has been devastating.”
A catastrophe on top of a crisis
The explosions came about in addition to Lebanon’s deteriorating socio-economic and financial crisis. Refugees especially are feeling the impact.
Due to the unstable financial situation and the coronavirus pandemic, many people are struggling to make ends meet. “I used to work at the port. Now with the explosion, I don’t have a job at all,” says Neji.
The explosions have caused significant damage in Beirut’s infrastructure and destroyed the houses of people like Neji. “All our windows are shattered, door locks are broken, the walls have cracked, and parts of the roof in the kitchen have collapsed as a result of the explosion. We need urgent repairs ahead of the winter, but with no jobs and income, we can’t afford to repair all the damage,” he explains.
Blamed for everything
Neji feels the desperate circumstances have led to the discrimination he is experiencing. Fights sometimes break out when Syrians are accused of taking assistance away from the Lebanese. Neji and his roommates were beaten on one occasion simply for being nearby a food distribution.
Before the war in Syria. Neji was a second-year Law student and never had to rely on anyone. He recognizes that now people are very stressed, but that does not excuse blaming Syrians who were equally affected by the explosion.
No dreams left
Neji is now in limbo, struggling to survive in Lebanon, but unable to return to Syria. He sees resettling to a third country as his only hope for the future. “My cousin went to Europe and he tells me that for the first time in his life he feels like a human being.”
“We don’t have any dreams left; everything has been taken away from us,” he continues. “I haven’t seen my family for over 6 years, and I don’t know if I will ever again. I’m a 25-year-old man who misses his mum. I want to hug her and smell her perfume again.”
Since day one after the explosion, the European Union and its partners on the ground engaged in first aid and ambulance services, while some dispatched “quick fix teams” to repair damaged homes.
The EU has mobilised €32.2 million to help vulnerable Lebanese, but also Syrian refugees like Neji, impacted by the blasts. The funding covers the rehabilitation of homes, cash to help pay for rent and other necessities, protective support such as legal assistance and help with documentation.