BEIRUT BLOG: Refugees Return To Destroyed Homes

Special Report - Jonathan Erasmus


Lebanese refugees
Over the past couple of days the first of thousands of refugees began returning home to south Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut. For many it has proved to be a devastating experience as they discover their homes have been destroyed.


In south Lebanon towns and villages around Sidon and Tyre are in ruins and in areas of southern Beirut such as Haret Hreik, Dahia and Beir El Abed all that remains are wrecked buildings, dust and debris.

Zaina Almed had taken refuge with her husband and four children in a school in central Beirut during the past month. She left her home in Dahia, south Beirut, following the Israeli dropped leaflets warning of imminent attacks.

Jammed into a mini-bus, I travelled with Zaina and her family back to Dahia only to discover their home had been obliterated. For Zaina, this was the final straw.  She broke down in tears clutching her youngest child Younis, aged four. She told me this was her worst fear.

She said: “I prayed this had not happened. This was our home. What you see, this chaos, is all we have now. I need my home back. I don’t know what we will do.”

Her husband Abed Almed, unsuccessfully tried to comfort her. He told me they had been through “too much”. He said: “We have been sleeping on the floor with 20 others stuck in one room. Now we will have to go back. We have not only lost friends in this war, now we have lost our home. The Lebanese are used to suffering but this? No, we are not.”

He continued: “I feel totally helpless, my children are suffering and I can do nothing.”

It is the same for thousands of Lebanese throughout the country. They will have to return to refuge hostels and camps and from there not only start to rebuild their homes, but also their lives.

Yet for those travelling to south Lebanon, the outlook is even worse. The journey to the region is tremendously difficult with most key roads and bridges obliterated. The aid workers have only yesterday and today been able to get to some of the settlements with the conditions having been too dangerous previously.

When people finally arrive they find their villages, which were subjected to heavy Israeli attacks, now lie in ruins. The damage has wiped out entire regions, making conditions unliveable by any humane standard with the added concern of the estimated 400 as yet not located unexploded missiles effectively acting as landmines.

Single father of three, 52-year-old Almet Younis today returned to his village just outside Sidon for the first time since the beginning of the conflict to find his home was gone; demolished by Israeli missiles. He said: “I had been told it was bad there but I didn’t expect that. They [the Israelis] have destroyed everything. I am not Hizbollah but I have been punished anyway. I don’t know what I will tell my children, they will be heartbroken.”

He added: “You tell me, please. You tell me what I have done to deserve this?”

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) based in Beirut believe there are approximately 100,000 families in need of immediate aid. But this morning Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah quoted the much more moderate figure of 18,000 families. He added that Hizbollah would provide these people with aid by “rebuilding their houses”, and providing money for one year’s rented accommodation.

However, Hizbollah ‘s aid effort is not only motivated by entirely humanitarian concerns. Their motives are three-fold. The help they provide wins and maintains the support of the Lebanese people, especially at a time when the government do not have funds to help to the same extent as Hizbollah, who have generous Iranian and Syrian financial backing.

Their aid project also means the international community is faced with a carefully manufactured, delicate situation where the ‘terrorist organisation’ heralded responsible for instigating the war with Israel are now the main relief group and therefore somewhat untouchable.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Hizbollah have helped the refugees return home quickly and promised to rebuild Lebanon because they know once the people have returned, the land is secured and they can regain control, regardless of the movements of the 15,000 Lebanese army troops into the region in the next few days.

The army is no match for Hizbollah, and won’t be in any case. The two are interlinked politically with Hizbollah’s 25 supporters in a 124 seat Lebanese parliament and cabinet post capable of wielding serious power and influencing major governmental decisions.

But regardless of all this, the refugees here need the help. The focus right now must be for these people to get food, water and shelter. They need aid and they need it immediately. And where it comes from is, in the short term, of no interest to them..

 * See also 'BEIRUT BLOG: Lebanon Counts The Grim Cost Of War (The-Latest, World News section)