Conflict puts wedding plans on hold as wounded Syrian couple flee to Lebanon

Telling the Human Story, 19 September 2012

© UNHCR/M.AbuAsaker
Abu Omar looks across to the brown hills of Syria from his new temporary home in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon, September 19 (UNHCR) It is a long way from the luxury hotels of the Persian Gulf to the dusty mountain towns of Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. But Abu Omar, 28, a sales manager for five-star hotels, has just made that journey getting shot at twice in Syria along the way.

Abu Omar, who does not want to use his real name, told UNHCR earlier this month at an empty school in Lebanon where he had sought refuge for the previous two weeks that his decision to leave Syria came down to one thing: saving his future wife.

Abu Omar had been working in the Gulf, but earlier this year he returned home to Damascus to get married. One afternoon he was riding in a car with his fiancée and future in-laws to buy a dress near the family home. As the car approached a checkpoint, a sniper opened fire from a nearby rooftop.

The driver slammed on the brakes and yanked the steering wheel sharply. But 24 rounds shattered the back window and punctured the doors. Abu Omar's fiancée was hit in the stomach by an exploding round, while the driver was killed by a bullet in the spine.

The survivors made their way to a nearby hospital, where a doctor stitched up Abu Omar's fiancée's abdomen with staples. But the hospital director warned them not to stay, as he expected a visit by security officers checking on new patients as potential opposition sympathisers. Nor was it safe to return home.

Abu Omar took his fiancée and her family into hiding in the basement of a bakery in the neighbourhood. "It was not a healthy place," he recalls. His future wife's condition worsened; her fever would not go away.

To get help, Abu Omar called the surgeon who had stitched her up in the first place and then risked the journey to pick him up and bring him back to the bakery, as the doctor's home was also under fire. "The funny thing," Abu Omar says, "is he forgot his medical kit!" (Abu Omar bought a new instrument and the doctor removed the staples and prescribed antibiotics.) When his fiancée stabilized, he decided to leave his country.

The same day they were scheduled to flee he came under fire again, he says. This time he was hit in the right shoulder, but the bullet exited cleanly. "I am not going back until it is safe," he says from his new temporary home in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, gazing back at the brown Syrian hills.

He and his fiancée fled across the border to Lebanon, where she is getting treatment in the local hospital. Abu Omar is among 60,000 Syrian refugees now sheltering in Lebanon. UNHCR and its partners are helping refugees like Abu Omar and his fiancée access health care and other services in Lebanon, as well as accommodation.

"I came back to Syria to get married and I got stuck," he says. Now his life has veered in a completely unexpected direction. At least they are safe, he admits. And with luck, they will soon be married.

By Andrew Purvis in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Lebanon: MemoriesPlay video

Lebanon: Memories

As Syria enters a fifth year of conflict, refugees in neighbouring countries are losing hope of going home any time soon. Hassan and Heba ran a car rental business and sent their three children to good schools back home. But after Hassan was kidnapped five times for ransom, the family decided to seek refuge across the border in Lebanon.
Lebanon: The Elderly And The Young In The StormPlay video

Lebanon: The Elderly And The Young In The Storm

In Lebanon, a winter storm is taking its toll on the elderly and the very young, despite continued aid distributions. There are 402,000 registered refugees in the Bekaa Valley, who live in every conceivable type of shelter, although some are more vulnerable than others.
Lebanon: Struggling with winter storm ZeinaPlay video

Lebanon: Struggling with winter storm Zeina

As winter storm Zeina continued to lash Lebanon, many Syrian refugees and locals struggled to strengthen their tents or homes as more snow was forecast. The storm has brought more misery for hundreds of thousands of refugees living in the worst affected areas.