Bourj Al Barajneh refugee camp, Lebanon 19 July 2003
An miniature airplane hangs in the center of the ceiling fan. Mohammad points up at it, Nadia brought it for my nephew, Ahmad, but I took for myself. An airplane. The center piece of a room filled with symbols of a ravaged homeland. Palestine.
Mohammad explains his increasing desperation to leave this place. Earlier this month he got turned down for a visa to Italy. And he regrets not going with 2 of his friends who left through Turkey. They are traveling to Cuba from there, but will go down illegally when they stop in London, I should have gone. I have to get out of here.
I ask Mohammad if there is any news from Bilal and his friends. Last I heard the 8 young men from Bourj al Barajneh had been arrested in the Ukraine - after paying large sums to take illegal channels through Moscow. All the young men were arrested except Bilal. His mother tells us he got away because he doesn’t look Arab.
Mohammad confirms the rumor circulating around the camp. The 8 men are being returned any day now. Returned. The statement causes uneasy silence in the room. Returned. To the camp. I enquire about another rumor - Bassam, one of the young men - is he dead? They had actually begun funeral preparations last week, before realizing no one could confirm the facts. And so now his family and friends wait to see if he returns with the rest.
Saturday morning Um-Bilal greets Lara and I with ‘good’ news about her son. Bilal crossed another border and is staying with a man named Omar. He and 16 other young men from the camps in Lebanon, whom Omar responsible for. She doesn’t know much more, Bilal was too tired to talk. He had been in the forest - making his illegal crossing - for the past 5 days. He, along with a Syrian woman and her 2 children, had foraged for food. It is dangerous, she tells us, Some people get shot.
Trying to brighten the mood I ask about her trip last weekend to visit family in the South, only to find out she didn’t go. The man who ‘helped’ Bilal and his friends get to the Ukraine had called them, threatening to kill Bilal if he didn’t get more money. Mafia, she explains in English. But Omar is good. Better than the other man. Omar is also Mafia. And I wonder
sadly how such things can be rated.
And so life continues in Bourj al Barajneh camp. As Palestinian families are broken apart and reunited by the cruel reality in which they live.
With my soul disappointed in humanity (how many times can a soul be so disappointed?) I go up to seek the comfort of a cool night breeze on the roof with my friend Hanan. Talking about the situation of the young men, Hanan explains to me, too knowingly for a 23 year old woman, Life is bad for us everywhere, even outside the camps. This is our fate.
And I remember a few weeks earlier, when Ahmad’s mother came to see me in the camp. He had sent photos for her - it had been years since they last saw each other. After almost 4 years in Canada- his early 20s no less - Ahmad was refused Refugee Status. He can not work, and has already received his deportation notice. As Ahmad’s mother opens the photos, to show her son to my friends in the camp, she begins to cry. All of my sons are in different countries, she explains. Rami has been refused in Canada. Tears fill the eyes of the room, for they have all lived the same story. Um-Majed - born in Palestine, who raised her children in the refugee camps of Beirut - comes to comfort her. One of my sons is in Italy. Another in Germany. And Majed is now in Dubai. This is the life for Palestinians here. They will be fine.
This is the life for Palestinians in Lebanon. Until they have the full rights and humanity that all citizens of the world are entitled their lives, hopes and dreams are in the hands of others. And I wonder to myself - to Mohammad, Bilal, Ahmad and their families- how much longer can a people live this way?
Jordan Topp is the Overseas Program Coordinator for CEPAL, The Canadian-Palestinian Educational Exchange, and is currently living in the Palestinian refugee camp of Bourj al Barajneh in Beirut, Lebanon.