In Limbo - PhMuseum

In Limbo

Andrea Frazzetta

One million Syrian refugees. An inexorable flow of people that keeps growing.

Five hundred-thousand Palestinian refugees, unwelcome guests, forgotten in their ghettoes for 65 years.

A small country with less than four and a half million inhabitants. These are the ingredients of a phenomenon like no others that makes Lebanon a place unlike any other in the World.

A state that hosts a non-state within its heart. A land of invisibles, with no homes, no rights, floating in a limbo.

The Lebanese state does not recognize the refugee status and equates these people running from war to illegal immigrants. Following the trail of a human being stuck in this limbo is not easy.

Lost within small informal camps, in plastic tents spread across the dried up hills along the border. Crowded into abandoned buildings, in the agglomerations that sprout all around the cities. Swallowed up by the Palestinian ghetto-camps.

We are witnessing an exodus with a devastating impact force causing a huge amount of problems: hygienic, sanitary, living, alimentary, social and educational issues. “Lebanon has reached the limit of its endurance: we urgently need help from the international community.” This was the appeal by Lebanese president Michel Suleiman at the United Nations Security Council. Even if we don’t want to see it. this state-not-state is growing under our very eyes. Another black hole birthed by the war.

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  • Saida, Ain El Helweh Refugee Camp.
    The reunion of a popular committee of refugees. Without a Palestinian State with defined authority and powers, the so-called popular committees act as a political organ in the Palestinian camps administration, in Lebanon as elsewhere. Palestinian refugees from Syria are also part of the Ain El Helweh popular committee.
    Palestinians have been increasingly unwelcome guests in Lebanon for 65 years, ever since the 1948 Nakba. Today they live like canned sardines in 12 camps and as many ‘gatherings’, often in conflict-ridden environments, at the margins of society. They are barred from even the elementary civil right to work or to own a home.

  • Saida (Sidon), inside the "collective shelter" an abandoned construction site occupied by Syrian refugees. Within these wall reside about 150 families, all from the Syrian region of Daraa. In the agglomerates that sprouted around the small towns, refugees with some mean of sustenance seek shelter within unused buildings paying minimal rent to the owner or taking care of maintenance work.

  • Saida (Sidon), inside the “collective shelter”. Unlike in Jordan or Turkey, there are not giant tent camps in Lebanon. Refugees tend to aggregate by familiar groups in abandoned structures. They try to survive through public subsidies and underpaid labor.

  • ITS (Informal Tented Settlements) near Jiyé, 20 km south of Beirut. Many families of Syrian farmers are flowing into this rural area looking for shelter in exchange for work in the fields. Unlike in Jordan or Turkey, there are not giant tent camps in Lebanon. Refugees tend to aggregate by familiar groups in abandoned structures. They try to survive through public subsidies and underpaid labor.

  • Construction, largely illegal, is booming in Arsal, but despite the addition of 4,000 new houses since the beginning of the Syrian war, almost doubling the town's size, demand is rapidly outpacing supply.

  • Refugees pouring into Arsal, a Lebanese town in the Bekaa Valley near Syria.
    During the last few weeks more than a 20,000 people crossed the border to Lebanon. They are joining an estimated 1,000,000 Syrian refugees already in the country. Syrian refugees make up a quarter of Lebanon's population, the country's fragile systems are stretched and tensions are rising.

  • Saida (Sidon). An abandoned construction site occupied by Syrian refugees. This building, referred to as a “collective shelter”, hosts about 150 families, all from the Syrian Daraa region. Refugee families are present in over 700 location throughout Lebanon. Only a few of them are able to mix into the country’s social fabric, especially in the border villages, through the hospitality of Lebanese families or by sharing the rent in local apartments. The alternative for refugees is to seek shelter in buildings still under construction, compounds or in rural areas, within informal, self made camps.

  • Arsal, tents in a small Syrian refugee camp.
    Lebanese authorities have long neglected Arsal and the notoriously porous nature of the border region has made it a hub for smuggling people, weapons, and drugs across the border into Syria. The smuggling routes through the connecting mountains flow freely in both directions, as weapons and fighters move from Arsal into Qalamoun while car bombs and refugees go in the opposite direction.

  • The Ain El Helweh refugee camp. Palestinian refugees coming from Syria do not enjoy the same rights as Syrian refugees as they are not formally recognized as citizens of another State, but are considered the same as Palestinians who are already residing in Lebanon. Prevalently they settle in the overcrowded southern camps (mainly Ain el Helweh), generating a general deterioration of living conditions for the entire community. The camps's capability to absorb, sustain and host further refugees is extremely limited due to an already dramatic poverty rate and extreme overcrowding.

  • Arsal, a small tent village, a discussion among the camp men during a food aid distribution by UNHCR.
    Hundreds of new arrivals were straining the resources of Arsal, which has already absorbed thousands of Syrian refugees and become a hub for rebels near the fragile border. Lebanon, a country of four million people, is already struggling to intake about a million Syrian refugees. Tensions have been running high in the Bekaa Valley for months.

  • Arsal, a Syrian refugee family’s tent, set up in a small filed between the hills of the Bekaa Valley.
    Many person arrive in the border town with little more than the clothes on their backs. Having fled their homes, taking little of their belongings with them, the refugees need essential assistance, ranging from shelter, to food, water, hygiene items and sleeping material. Among them are hundred of thousands of Syrian children, growing up in extremely difficult conditions because of the civil war that has been ongoing since March 2011.

  • Saida (Sidon), inside the “collective shelter” an abandoned construction site occupied by Syrian refugees. Within these wall reside about 150 families, all from the Syrian region of Daraa. In the agglomerates that sprouted around the small towns, refugees with some mean of sustenance seek shelter within unused buildings paying minimal rent to the owner or taking care of maintenance work.

  • Saida (Sidon), inside the “collective shelter” an abandoned construction site occupied by Syrian refugees. Within these wall reside about 150 families, all from the Syrian region of Daraa. Based on the situation in Syria and current arrival trends, up to 1 million Syrian refugees may be residing in Lebanon by December 2013. By the end of 2014, the Syrian refugee population could reach 1.5 million.

  • Saida (Sidon). An abandoned construction site occupied by Syrian refugees. This building, referred to as a “collective shelter”, is owned by the Islamic University and financed by a Kuwaiti association. About 150 families live within it, all from the Syrian Daraa region. In the residential areas that proliferate around the small towns refugees with some means of sustenance seek shelter in empty or abandoned buildings paying minimal rents to the owners or taking care of maintenance. Many of them fight poverty by offering to work for starvation wages or by selling back the international food aid.

  • Ain El Helweh refugee camp. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to Lebanese authorities, has surpassed one million. About 65.000 of them are Palestinian who can stay in only one of the 12 “long-term” camps born created after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Among these Ain el Hilweh is the largest and historically most troubled. It is located in the coastal city of Sidone, in Southern Lebanon, and is home to more than one hundred thousand refugees crowded inside less than one square kilometer.


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