Noura Kevorkian is a Lebanese-Syrian film director and producer based in Toronto.
As the world rightfully focuses its attention on the current war in Ukraine and the displacement of millions of refugees, I notice how the focus has shifted off of Syrians.
This year marks the 11th anniversary of the start of the Syrian refugee crisis. Since the beginning of the revolution in March, 2011, thousands have been killed, with families and a nation torn apart. With more than six million refugees, it remains one of the largest forced human migrations of our time, along with seven million displaced internally in Syria. This conflict is not being as widely reported in the media these days, but it is certainly just as deserving.
According to some, the Syrian war is over. However, the humanitarian crisis and the ripple effect it has on nations around the world is definitely not over. Many people around the world have been affected by the Syrian crisis in some capacity. They watch the violence reported by the media and sponsor refugees by taking them into their communities. However, sadly, many countries that provided asylum to the Syrians have also experienced strife and instability, including Lebanon, which hosts the highest per capita number of refugees in the world.
Lebanon has suffered from a long history of political, sectarian and religious conflicts. The Syrian refugee influx only added to the tensions. Since late 2019, Lebanon’s economy has been in crisis, impoverishing formerly middle-class families like mine, and leaving millions struggling just to get by. Lebanon has seen the collapse of its political and banking systems, the devaluation of its currency and the resulting lack of electricity, oil, food and medical supplies. However, Lebanon still represents a safer, more stable environment for 1.5 million Syrians in refugee camps.
I’m very sympathetic to their cause, as a descendent of refugees. My father was born in a refugee camp in Beirut. His parents survived the Armenian genocide of 1915, and arrived on the shores of Lebanon seeking refuge. I, along with other Armenian children, absorbed the violence growing up, and we now carry our country and its historical intergenerational trauma in our DNA. The effects of violence and displacement are not just current affairs or news topics. They have lingering effects on the survivors, their children and future generations.
As an adult, I found myself on the front lines in Lebanon as a filmmaker documenting the lives of Syrian refugees from the start of the crisis. In 2009, I was there making a film about Syrian farmers, when suddenly the revolution changed everything. My film and its story took an unexpected turn, and I began to follow the influx of Syrian refugees through the next decade.
Living through this, I’ve gotten deep insights into what these refugees experience.
As you are reading this, imagine you are told that you have 10 minutes to pack your house and leave. Take a look around, note the things you have. The photographs you’ve arranged nicely on your shelves, the wedding dishes in your cabinet. Your children’s toys, your beautiful clothes, your fridge. What do you pack? What do you leave behind? As you carry your children and run, you turn back and have one last look. Who will feed your dog? Who will water your garden? You carry plastic bags full of personal belongings and jump on the back of a pickup truck. Your children wail. After hours of travelling, you arrive at the Lebanese border. Your body is bruised. Finally, you’re in an open field. Your children, tired from crying and hungry, are sleeping in your arms. You look around the surreal field. The sun is setting. You have nowhere to sleep. Other refugees who arrived before you are building makeshift tents. You cannot cry because the situation is beyond crying. You don’t have time to react because you are numb. Your only thought is to find something to eat, fall on the ground and sleep. It’s the first night of your life as a Syrian refugee. The first night of thousands of nights.
This has been the reality of one million Syrian refugees who live in the Bekaa Valley near my childhood village. I documented this scene in my new film, Batata, which has its North American premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto this month.
As a Canadian, I’m proud of the humanitarian efforts of my country and our citizens who opened their homes and wallets to help Syrian refugees for years. Sadly, it’s just a drop in the bucket. This is a huge global crisis that has affected, is affecting and will affect the lives of millions for years to come. I’m calling all nations and leaders to put aside geopolitical and resource considerations, and come together to help find a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.