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BEKA’A VALLEY, LEBANON — As Syrian regime bombs started to drop over his hometown of Homs, Mohammed Jassem gathered his wife and two children, and set out for the nearest border. They followed a handful of Syrians fleeing the conflict to the town of Sa’ad Nayel in Lebanon, just west of the border. There they set up a makeshift tent on open farmland, across from a small river.
After seven years, Mohammed Jassem is ready to return to Syria. (Zach Caldwell/VICE News)
The plan was to stay there for a few months until the fighting died down. It’s been seven years.
Today, Jassem pays $100 a month to rent 200 square feet of property in a refugee camp known as 003. His family has grown by two, and he’s drowning in debt, behind on three months of rent, barely earning any money with the few shifts of manual labor he’s able to secure.
Lebanon has more Syrian refugees per capita than any other country in the world — roughly 1.5 million. But the country, mired in its own crises, has struggled to provide much in the way of lasting support to its neediest neighbors. Instead, many refugees like Jassem have grown weary of the poor living conditions and limited opportunities for work.
It’s gotten so bad, he’s decided to do something he once thought unthinkable: take the Syrian government at its word and accept the plan announced last July to repatriate refugees.
Parts of Syria may still be at war. Its infrastructure may be decimated. Jassem’s home in Homs is certainly no longer there, flattened by Russian airstrikes just days after he fled. But he’s joining 90,000 others Syrians who’ve already gone back anyway, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In January, Jassem applied for one-way bus tickets home.
Three quarters of refugees here live on less than 4 dollars a day. (Zach Caldwell/VICE News)
“We have had enough,” he told VICE News. “This is it now. We can’t take any more. It’s all bad here. Everything is sour in Lebanon. There’s nothing that’s good here.”
VICE News traveled to Lebanon earlier this year to see how Syrian refugees are getting by, and to speak with those who’ve decided to return home.
Many of the Syrian children born here don’t have the proper paperwork needed to apply for schooling. (Zach Caldwell/VICE News)
At the crack of dawn earlier this year, about 300 refugees gathered at this checkpoint in Burj Hammoud just outside of Beirut to take a one-way bus back to Syria. (Zach Caldwell/VICE News)
These green buses, that usually take commuters around in Damascus, were sent by the regime across the Lebanese border to bring refugees back. (Zach Caldwell/VICE News)
Syrians are given just a day or two’s notice from the Lebanese General Security to gather their belongings that their applications have been accepted and they can go back. (Zach Caldwell/VICE News)
Z ach Caldwell filmed this segment and Joe Matoske edited.
Cover image: The Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs says at least 90,000 Syrians have returned home since July. (Zach Caldwell/VICE News)
This segment originally aired April 4, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.