More than 55,000 Palestinians from Syria sought refuge in Lebanon over the last several months. Many naturally have headed for the Palestinian refugee camps that were set up in Lebanon more than 60 years ago. Palestinian families in the camps are very welcoming but their living conditions, already critical, have worsened with the flood of new refugees.
ANERA quickly recognized the necessity to assist both host and arriving communities and launched an emergency relief campaign. With funding from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) we were able to ship Lutheran World Relief’s donation of 24,000 quilts and distribute them in April to Palestinian refugees from Syria in camps across Lebanon.
“I love this blanket. It reminds me of my grandmother who got one just like this from a foreign organization when she fled from Palestine to Syria.” Easy to recognize, these hand-made quilts leap from Hasna’s childhood memories to today’s harsh reality.
I want to learn more about Hasna and how she came to find refuge in Al Bas camp in southern Lebanon. When I visit the camp, community worker Khawla Khalaf describes how the quilts were distributed. Khawla works with ANERA’s longtime local partner Beit Atfal Assumoud. “We had to rent warehouses and recruit a whole team. In the end, we even had a surplus of quilts that were donated to newcomers who had not registered with us yet.”
Khawla sends me to visit one of the families who recently arrived from Syria. I enter the three-bedroom house and find five families huddled inside. This is where I meet Hasna. After sharing the memory of her grandmother’s quilt, she frowns. “Although the quilts are nice, I hope this the last time that we need to receive them.” Her words are a sad reminder that for many Palestinians from Syria, this is a second exile. The fears of its longevity are unspoken but ever-present.
Trying to change the subject, Hasna’s husband Mahmoud shows me around, joking about the quilts.
Nearby, Sleiman and his wife Leila are crammed into one room with their five children, including their six-month-old who was born in Lebanon after they arrived.
Sleiman says the situation is exhausting and frustrating. “We are arguing more often these days. The whole family is crammed into this room and I can’t find a job. I just feel so humiliated. In Syria, I was respected in my community and took my wife out every day.”
Asked about what they need now, they say the list too long. I know that quilts alone cannot alter that long list but Sleiman corrects me. “It is not just about the quilts,” he explains, “but about the kindness with which it is given. It’s good to know that someone meant it for me and my family.”