The crisis has gone on so long that some children have forgotten where they are from. Rashid Hamadi, 9, remembers his house, with bedrooms for himself and his siblings and a garden where roses grew. He remembers tanks and bullets and running in fear from bombs. But he hesitated when asked the name of his home town. “I don’t remember,” he said. In Turkey, the only country in the region that has made a point of welcoming the refugees, some Syrians are allowed to work, attend school and receive medical care. The Turkish government has already warned Turks to prepare for the eventuality that the presence of 1.9 million Syrians in their country of 75 million may be permanent.
The Lebanese government has refused to allow the construction of camps for the Syrians, so the refugees are left to fend for themselves. “It’s like being in prison,” said Nour Msaitef, 25, who fled Idlib province three years ago and dares not leave his camp, on the outskirts of the Bekaa Valley town of Zahle, even in daylight for fear of being detained by Lebanese authorities or beaten up by local residents.
Some fled the excesses of the Islamic State, others government forces. Many now find their home towns on the wrong side of front lines that are unlikely to budge.
Fitnah al-Ali’s nephew returned last year to the family’s home in Homs, an epicenter of the anti-government revolt in 2011 that led to the civil war. The city is now under government control. He was detained and has not been heard from. “Just because you fled, they will say you were with the revolution,” said her son, Abdullah, who dares not go back.
Watfa Assad Saleh and her family have added a wooden roof, walls and little shelves decorated with china dogs to the shack they inhabit just across the border from Syria, within earshot of the daily airstrikes pounding their home town of Zabadani, another early focus of the revolt. Their house there has been leveled, neighbors have told them, and she questions whether they will ever go back.
“We say, ‘God willing,’ ” she sighed. “But I don’t believe we will ever return.” '