This blog originally appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog.
Pulling into the Lebanese Army checkpoint at Wadi Khaled, bustling Beirut seemed a world away. Thick gray clouds hugged the mountainside, and a fierce wind whipped across the roadway. A text message on one of our cell phones welcomed us to Syria - an indication of just how close we were to that war-torn country.
It was a foreboding way for my Refugees International colleagues and me to start our afternoon in this remote region, where displacement and cross-border violence have become the norm in recent months. Villagers have been kidnapped, journalists have been shot at by Syrian border guards, and aid deliveries were briefly cut off this month as the violence escalated.
After getting our credentials checked by military intelligence, we were cleared to proceed to a village where Syrian refugees reside. We hoped to speak with some of them face-to-face, but didn’t know how much they would be willing to share given the danger just across the border. As it turns out, they had plenty to say.
The family we visited, along with eight others, was living in a refurbished schoolhouse along the spine of a hill. The patriarch, Hamid, brought us into a room he had prepared for his Western guests. We asked him to explain why he left Syria, if he was comfortable doing so. As he answered, his eyes widened, his speech became faster and louder, and his arms shook with anger. He had come to Lebanon nine months ago from Houla, he explained - just a few miles from where we sat - and could barely contain his rage over last week’s massacre of 108 people there.
“Everyone knew what was happening in Houla,” he shouted. “And it’s going to happen again tonight.”
At that I froze, not sure what I was hearing. “We talked to our relatives in Houla an hour ago,” he continued. “The Army has surrounded the city again and they will attack tonight. Two families tried to escape yesterday, and the Army killed them.”
We tried to get Hamid to discuss his own life as a refugee, but he kept returning to the troubles back home: the former neighbor who was murdered for giving medicine to refugees, the crops and livestock destroyed, and the two sons who stayed behind: one now dead, the other brutally tortured.
“We are not even supposed to kill a bird out of malice,” he added. “What kind of sin is it to push people out of their homes and displace them, like this regime is doing?”
As we left the sitting room, we walked in on a group of refugees watching the news on a small television. The attacks in Houla had started again; the horrors in Syria had hit home once more.
June 05, 2012
| Tagged as: Congress, Lebanon, Syria, Humanitarian Response