Lebanon: Syrian migrant workers face uncertain future after Beirut explosion

Destroyed buildings at Beirut port in the aftermath of the explosion (photo from smartphone video)

Abdallah is just 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 got to work in a carpentry workshop in the ‘La Quarantaine’ neighbourhood and then later in a wool mill.

Abdallah does not read nor write. His job at the wool 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’ – because until the beginning of the last century, it was linked to the port and harboured travelers who came from countries suffering from epidemics and who were prohibited from entering the city for 40 days. To this day it remains a predominantly low-income area.

Abdallah’s factory, like all others in the area, was ravaged by the explosion on Tuesday 4th August.

Abdallah is not alone in Lebanon. He has brothers working in the country. 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 wool mill. Together, they did the same job in this factory.

Tragically, however, Abdelmouein died in the explosion of Beirut. 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; where he was buried all alone, unable to be laid to rest alongside anyone of his own family who remain in Syria.

Abdemouein died on the spot in the blasted wool mill. After working all day, he wanted to rest on one of the beds the factory offers on the premises. He dozed off for a few minutes and during this time the explosion occurred, and a wall collapsed on him.

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

More than 47 migrant workers, mostly Syrians, 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. They tend to do the jobs that many Lebanese don’t want to do such as construction, factory work and agriculture.

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 premises 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 just keep surviving.

Interview and story by Patricia Khoder, CARE Lebanon communications consultant.

  • As well as food, health, shelter, protection, and multi-purpose cash support, CARE Lebanon’s emergency response to the Beirut explosion will include supporting 500 small and medium-sized enterprises to promote livelihood opportunities for people affected by the disaster.

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