Arsal, as Wikipedia defines it, is “a traditional town situated on the slopes of the Anti-Lebanon mountains,” at an elevation of 5,090 ft. (1,550 m). It has a population of about 60,000 people and a large influx of al-Qalamoun Syrian refugees taking shelter there.
Arsal’s municipality has been doing it’s very best for the past two years in trying to contain the crisis and keeping the complaint level to a minimum. However, the self-sufficient town cannot take it anymore; it has been neglected and forgotten as thousands of refugees set up tents as shelters with the hope of returning home soon.
Almost a year ago, I filmed a documentary about the daily life of Syrian refugees in Arsal, the number of refugees was high yet, a lot more was done back then. For instance, tents were replaced by temporary residences i.e. unfinished buildings, which were relatively satisfactory. This is when a journalist feels completely useless, here I am a year later, sitting behind my desk and writing about the same issue all over again, hoping that the government will realize the epidemic crisis that is about to happen due to the cold, cold winter in Arsal!
However, winter is different this year. It’s colder, rougher and unbearable... especially if a tent is your only shelter. The al-Qalamoun battle, the (expected/happening/ still in process) battle drove thousands of Syrian families to pack up and move to Arsal, families looking for safety came across a catastrophic humanitarian disaster, today Arsal is fully packed.
The last time I visited Arsal was a few weeks ago; I was planning on renting a house with a colleague and spending a weekend in the area reporting, but when we asked around we were told that there are no houses available for rent. And that was it, I never insisted, knowing that the house that I might want to rent for myself could keep a Syrian family warm, I was in no position to use my journalistic wasta this time.
Today, the infamous storm “Alexa” arrived Lebanon; it also arrived in Arsal, covering up the refugees’ tents with layers and layers of snow and LBCI reported tents falling apart because of the snow.
Everyone in Arsal feels helpless, in a call with the municipality today, we were left speechless. Yet hope exists, somewhere, somehow, an initiative happened and I think that each and every one of us must take part. Go through your (WINTER clothes) closet, pick up your best jacket [no not the pricy one, nor the designer one] the one that keeps you warm during the coldest nights, pull it out, wrap it up and drop it off THIS SATURDAY at BIEL (Down town area - "Beirut By Bike" arena) from 11am to 6pm. I AM NOT A TOURIST “is an initiative to collect winter clothing and blankets for Syrian refugees of all ages in the Bekaa Valley and Akkar.”
Spread the word, let’s not sit here behind our desks helplessly and let’s actually help.
Follow the author on Twitter @LunaSafwan.