Life in the cracks: a photo journey of survival in Lebanon

Portraits of displaced Syrians trying to maintain a sense of dignity in daily life across Lebanon.

Photographs Eduardo Soteras Jalil/DRC

The children are the most evident, emboldened by the numbers in their forever rotating, mottled and mixed-aged groups. They wander the perimeter of the dirt field, the building, the apartment.  Sticks in hand, plastic ill-fitting and ill-suited sandals forever slipping off. They watch for an adult who may give them an instruction or who may not. They search.

They attempt play. Toys are a luxury. Boys skittle rocks imagining them to be marbles. Girls jump plastic tape fashioned into ‘elastics’. Laughter is infrequent. Their attention span is short. Games abandoned at the sight of a slowing car, an adult who may have looked their way.

These are displaced Syrian children on any one of the days in the past five years in no-name and easily forgotten towns, run-down city neighborhoods, or plastic informal tented camps across Lebanon. Over 1.2 million refugees from Syria who have now sought refuge from conflict in their homeland into Lebanon are daily attempting a life in a foreign land that is often struggling with its own domestic issues, resource and unemployment constraints, with by and large depleted savings and nothing but the clothes they fled Syria in.

As the weeks fall into months, and months pass into years, Syria’s displaced people in Lebanon, equipped with an innate drive to survive, push on with a life where a future persists in the uncertain. “Day to day” is the common timeframe for any long-term plan. Confinement, fear, and a relenting desire to return to their homeland where they feel their identity as Syrians can only be true, a hallmark for most. They want to look to a time after struggle.

The DRC has been one of the largest International NGOs operating in Lebanon since September 2004; with a main focus now on the provision of emergency assistance to displaced Syrians and supporting the capacities of hosting communities across the country.



With over one in four of its 4.5 million population a refugee, Lebanon has the highest per capita refugee rate in the world, according to United Nations Refugee Agency. Over 1.2 million are Syrians escaping conflict, of which 825,000 are women and children. Confinement, born from fear and immobility, has increasingly become the mainstay for many Syrian refugee children. In 2015, DRC Lebanon implemented protection activities benefitting more than 30,000 vulnerable individuals in the heavily refugee towns across Bekaa Valley and North Lebanon. Photo: Informal Tented Settlement, Helba, Tripoli, Lebanon.  


A young Syrian boy lines up for a winning shot in a game of marbles he plays with friends made in the Bar Elias Informal Settlement in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. The camp is minutes the Syrian border. Struggling to deal with influx of some 10,000 refugee every week, the Lebanese government all but closed its borders to Syrians in October 2014, aside from extreme humanitarian cases.



Children from Syria play next to their tented homes in Bar Elias Informal Camp, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon where they have lived for the last three years. With many guardians of children fearful of letting children out of their sight, many Syrian children the DRC meet and work with in the field are living isolated and confined lives, a far cry from the extended socialising connected to Syrian culture.DRC Lebanon works hard to create safe spaces for refugees from Syria and local host population to access learning, play and support in its five Community Centers spread across the country.



With the Lebanese government opposing the construction of formal refugee camps in Lebanon, for the thousands of Syrian families who have long depleted their savings and are unable to pay rent, many must make do with what they can find to shelter under. According to UNHCR over 40 per cent of refugees from Syria live in insecure and exposed places such as garages, unfinished buildings, and informal camps across Lebanon.



Abdullah holds his younger brother in an apartment he lives in with his nine family members that is funded by the Danish Refugee Council in the Bekkaa Valley, Lebanon. With the inability to legally work, and for many savings long gone, 70% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are now living below the Lebanese poverty line of $3.84 per person per day lost in cycle of poverty and forced continued movement, according to the UNHCR. In 2015, the DRC refurnished 59 multi-story buildings - Collection Centers – across heavily populated refugee areas of the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli, providing rent-free homes for some 960 of the most vulnerable refugee families.



A family shares a meal outside their tent in the Helba Informal Settlement, Tripoli. According to UNHCR, some 81 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon rent their accommodation, paying an average rent of $200 for what is often little more than a plot of land. Over 40 per cent of refugees from Syria in Lebanon live in insecure and exposed places such as garages, unfinished buildings, and informal camps.


A damaged life. A young Syrian male attempts to find solace amongst the over-crowded tents in an informal settlement in Helba, Tripoli. According to the International Labor Organisation, only around half of refugees from Syria are economically active and just one third have access to overwhelmingly informal and low-skilled employment, leaving many, in particular young men, feeling increasingly helpless. In 2015, with support from UNICEF, DRC Lebanon’s psychosocial outreach program reached over 14,500 refugees from Syria.



A space of their own. With gripping poverty now confronting over half of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, play for Syrian children, is often without toys, reduced to imagination and invention. Informal settlement, Helba, Lebanon.


As refugees from Syria push to find spaces for refuge in Lebanon, informal tent settlements have sprung up across the country. This settlement in Akkar, North Lebanon, is home to eight families. DRC Lebanon provides outreach support to residents of this settlement. In 2015 DRC Lebanon helped over 8000 people with waterproofing and shelter kits, and 8434 individuals with shelter in small shelter units.



Another day waiting. In January 2015, the Lebanese government introduced additional visa regulations for refugees to attain their residency permit, costing USD$200 per person, and must be renewed annually. The impact of this expense has meant a typical family of six individuals now struggles to bear the cost of their residency. Many refugees, and in particular men, unable to afford the permit are increasingly remaining hidden in shelters or informal settlements for fear of being caught without legal documentation. The new permit regulations created additional obstacles for refugees’ mobility and travel within the country, impeding travel for medical and educational purposes, or livelihood opportunities for fear of being stopped and detained at Lebanese check-points. Photo Informal Settlement, Helba, Lebanon.



While these youngsters scale the DRC Collective Center stairs on the way to school, Mercy Corps report around 68 percent of Syrian refugee children and adolescents are out of school in Lebanon, and many have not seen the inside of a classroom in more than three years.



Preparing dinner. According to the World Food Program assessment almost 30 per cent of refugees from Syria living in Lebanon faced food shortages. Informal Tented Settlement, Helba, North Lebanon


Two teenagers stand amid smoke near horticulture houses that shoulder the informal tented settlement they live in near Tripoli, Lebanon. Some Lebanese landholders have opened land for informal settlements for refugees from Syria on the fringes of their agricultural fields, offering people to work and stay on their land. This work is highly seasonal. With the competition for land, evictions are common, adding to the fragility many Syrians feel in Lebanon.


Young mothers with their children catch the last of the fading daylight hours before returning to their tents for the night in the Informal Tent settlement, Helba, Lebanon.



Since 2004, the Danish Refugee Council has been one of the largest International humanitarian NGOs operating in Lebanon with a focus in 2015 on the provision of emergency assistance to displaced Syrians, and supporting the capacities of hosting communities across the country. Despite increasing difficulties registering as a refugee in Lebanon since the government’s revocation of registration rights of refugees from UNHCR to the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) as of January 2015, Lebanon continues to host the largest number of refugees in the world per capita - with one in four of its population reported as a refugee. As of 31 December 2015, the total number of registered refugees from Syria in Lebanon stood at 1.2 million, with Bekaa Valley hosting 371,809, Beirut 311,098, North Lebanon 260,932 and South Lebanon 125, 272. As the Syrian refugee crises moves into its fifth year, transitioning from an emergency to a protracted situation, DRC Lebanon continued to refocus programming towards transitional and durable solutions.