Co-written by Ahmed Bayram & Aliaa Awada
Ascending rugged hills uncovers the fertile mountains that embrace this village. Shebaa, on the southeastern edge of Lebanon, is a typically calm place that has gone quieter this morning. It has taken us three hours to get here which, by Lebanon’s standards, is a marathon journey.
With little warning, the tranquillity of the exterior bursts into life inside this makeshift classroom. A group of students are having an early start at maths. It is the last session for the year and, for once, they hope not to come back here.
“We are all going back to Syria,” says Dana* while taking her seat. “When the buses come.”
Everything needs to happen at some point before the buses come. Children are waiting to get their school grades before the buses come. Families have to pay off all debts before the buses come.
The buses will come and more than 1,500 Syrian refugee families will be transported over the border to Beit Jinn in the southwest of Damascus. The first batch of 500 home-returners left for the same town back in April. Save the Children’s partners inside Syria say that those who arrived in different regions and towns found themselves at risk from the escalation, and had to flee once again.
The prospect excites children. “We are happy; we want to see people we haven’t seen for seven years,” says Samar*, 13. “They told us to keep silent at the checkpoint [in Syria] or they will send you back.”
Samar knows she will miss Lebanon. She’s keeping a jacket she bought when she first arrived here as a memento.
With them, children will take memories and hopes of a fresh start. “We will remember our house, friend, teachers and neighbours,” says Bana. “We had a great time together.”
There were terrible moments too. “We were beaten up. They shouted at us and said many bad things to us.” Asked whether that was enough reason to go back to Syria, they nod in agreement.
On the other side of the border, there lie uncertainties. The children are not sure what will happen next. Will there be a house to shelter them? A school where they can study? Or hospital for the ill to get treatment?
“We don’t know,” says Amjad*, who has just finished Year 4. “If they told me there was no school, I wouldn’t want to go back, because education is the most important thing.”
The fact that children don’t know exactly what awaits them in Syria is cause for worry. A report by Save the Children has revealed that one in three schools have been damaged in the seven years of the Syrian conflict. The World Bank says 27 percent of the housing stock has been affected, while hospitals, water and sanitation and energy infrastructure have taken a severe hit. It is highly doubted, therefore, that any of the basic rights and services will be accessible for them. This means that the fundamental elements of safety and informed decision that need to be part of such movement are taken out of the equation.
For now, however, this is not something Bana thinks about.
“I just want to visit my auntie’s grave as soon as I get there.”