Desperate conditions push refugees in Lebanon to dream of Europe

While the surge of refugees in Europe is relatively new, Lebanon has been inundated by fleeing Syrians for four years; a quarter of the country's residents are refugees. In Beirut, some families are living in the rubble of bombed-out houses. Alex Thomson of Independent Television News reports that some are now contemplating life elsewhere.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The surge of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe may be relatively new, but the displacement caused by the war has spilled over into neighboring countries for more than four years.

    Perhaps nowhere is that more pronounced than in neighboring Lebanon, where one-quarter of the country's residents are refugees.

    Alex Thomson of Independent Television News reports from Beirut, where many displaced Syrians, particularly the marginalized, are contemplating a new life in Europe.

  • ALEX THOMSON:

    The next wave is already coming to Europe. Living on the edge in Lebanon, there is only so much any human being can take. WOMAN (through interpeter): You come in and see for yourself. It's really bad.

  • ALEX THOMSON:

    So we did. In through the stinking, flooding passageway, yet three floors over our heads, the entire building is collapsing, bomb damage, too dangerous for human habitation, say the authorities.

    Officially, the entire block is too dangerous to live in. Down below, Ftaym Arafat, single mom, five children, pays $130 a month for one stinking, damp room, which could collapse any time.

  • FTAYM ARAFAT, Refugee (through interpreter):

    Definitely, things are getting much worse here. My son was studying in Syria. Now he has to work. I feel bad for him. ALEX THOMSON: Every time there is a problem with the water, and that is often, they have to come up to the roof to sort it out. She says conditions are so bad living here that she wants to go back to her old place. That was an underground garage, where six families were living together and being charged $1,000 a month, better, she says, than this.

    Two floors down, here's Mohamed from Raqqa, yes, the Islamic State's headquarters. He says, "I just want to get out of here, any country, please."

    Across Beirut, across Lebanon, the sense of things breaking down here. To cap it off, an historic sandstorm has descended, the like of which few people here can ever remember. The capital is pockmark with piles of rubbish, on the face of it, a humdrum municipal dispute, but it's actually about government corruption, the sense of things not working, again today, protests near the parliament.

    So, the Lebanese government has snapped. They have had enough. They're pushing this exodus out of their country by banning Syrian refugees from working.

    So, come with me to the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in South Beirut and see the effect of this.

  • MAN:

    I want to go to the England.

  • ALEX THOMSON:

    To England?

  • MAN:

    Yes.

  • ALEX THOMSON:

    Mohamed Sitan, historian, teacher and double refugee, he's fled from the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Syria, a proud Anglophile, but he has his doubts.

    You like Churchill? You like Margaret Thatcher?

  • MAN:

    Yes. But Mr. Cameron must — no — with us. Mr. Cameron, I don't understand it.

  • ALEX THOMSON:

    His father, Aisa, fought with the British army in the Second World War from El Alamein to Norway.

  • MAN:

    My father in the army, England fighting Nazis. ALEX THOMSON: But they can't take much more of this.

  • WOMAN (through interpreter):

    If possible, just like my husband, I would like to go to Sweden, or England, or even Norway perhaps.

  • ALEX THOMSON:

    She says: "We need $5,000 to try to get to Europe. We're nowhere near that."

    So they struggle on here day by day with Osama, their son who has profound learning difficulties, and the daily grind of food, rent, and relentless power cuts.

    On Beirut's famous Corniche, surface life is normal, but across this country, the gigantic push and pull, the push of a government that cannot cope and wants perhaps two million refugees gone, probably to Europe, and the pull, these refugees in their millions see the E.U. welcome on television, on Facebook, Twitter. They see the welcome. They see the hope.

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