Just trying to survive: Syrian migrant workers in Beirut after the explosions

Abdallah is 17 years old. He is Syrian, originally from the province of Deir el-Zor. He arrived in Lebanon when he was 13 years old, leaving behind his parents and family back in Syria, and immediately went to work in a carpentry workshop in the ‘La Quarantaine’ neighbourhood of Beirut and then later in a woolen mill.

Abdallah does not read nor write. His job at the woolen mill is to wash and dry the sheepskins.

In the summer, he works on the roof of the factory, where the sheepskins dry in the sun.

The neighbourhood gets its name—‘La Quarantine’—from the beginning of the last century when it was linked to the port and sheltered travelers who came from countries suffering from epidemics and were prohibited from entering the city for 40 days. To this day, it remains a predominantly low-income area. The factory that Abdallah works in, like all others in the area, was ravaged by the explosions that took place in Beirut on August 4.

Abdallah is not alone in Lebanon. He has brothers working in the country as well. Traditionally in Lebanon, many manual jobs, whether in industry, agriculture or construction are carried out by foreign labour, in particular Syrians, and this was the case long before the arrival of refugees as a result of the Syrian conflict.

Abdallah also has a friend, Abdelmouein, with him in Beirut. It was Abdelmouein who managed to find him work in the woolen mill. Together, they did the same job in this factory. Tragically, Abdelmouein died in the explosions. He was only 23 years old.

Abdelmouein had cousins ​​in Lebanon and it was with them that Abdallah accompanied his friend's body to the Bekaa Valley where he was buried—alone, unable to be laid to rest alongside his own family who remain in Syria.

After working all day, Abdemouein wanted to rest on one of the beds the factory offers on the premises. He dozed off for a few minutes, that was when the explosion occurred, and a wall collapsed on him.

He had been working for 9 years in this factory for a salary of 190,000 Lebanese Liras (27 dollars after the fall of the local currency) per week.

More than 47 migrant workers, mostly Syrians like Abdelmouein, died in the explosion in Beirut. Hundreds more were injured. Lebanon hosts around 500,000 Syrian workers, aside from the over 880,000 refugees in country.

Migrant workers, as well as refugees and domestic workers, were already some of the most vulnerable to Lebanon’s economic crisis before the blast. Their situation is only likely to worsen now, with their places of employment and means of making a living destroyed, and for many their homes also affected.

For Abdallah, planning, or even thinking about, his future is a luxury. Right now, he remains in shock, doing the best he can to survive.

CARE is working with local partners in Lebanon to focus on immediate life-saving aid in the form or food parcels, cash, psycho-social support, and hygiene materials in the first few months. We will also work towards longer-term assistance through shelter rehabilitation, technical support and cash assistance, long-term psycho-social support and resources to help protect against gender-based violence, which can increase after a crisis such as this as tensions increase and thousands are living in temporary and unprotected shelters.

CARE Canada is a proud member of The Humanitarian Coalition—a group of Canada's leading aid agencies that join forces to raise funds, partner with the government, and mobilize media, businesses and individual Canadians during emergencies. From August 4-24, the Government of Canada is matching all donation made to Humanitarian Coalition members up to a maximum of $5 million.

With your support, CARE can help provide food, shelter and safety for those who have lost so much.