Each morning at five a.m., before Beirut’s office commuters arrive, Moussa Assaf must rise and herd his family gently from the edge of the parking lot where they sleep. It is a task he does not enjoy – he has three young children – but it is a far cry from the nightmare he and his family left behind in Tyre, their home city in southern Lebanon, now engulfed by the fighting here. Today in Lebanon, a quiet space in an open hallway by a parking lot is worth the life savings some people spent to get here.
“There were a lot of vehicles in the convoy, with a private driver in our bus,” Assaf recalled of the day he and his family paid $50 each to flee the city as it was under attack. “At first he asked for $700 for the family [to travel].”
Arriving in Beirut, Assaf and his family made it here, to the apartment of his father, who took them in – along with a host of other family members. Now, 21 people crowd the single room of his father’s apartment – a space so small most of them are forced to sleep outside.
Hosts like Assaf’s father have been the saving grace for most of the 915,000 people displaced by the fighting in Lebanon. With one quarter of the population displaced, friends, family members, and in some cases complete strangers have taken in the bulk of those made homeless, providing what food, bedding and clothing they can. For Assaf and his family, help comes from Caritas Lebanon, a CRS partner, working to provide food to the family, who have been displaced three times now since 1983 by wars in Lebanon.
A fisherman by trade, Assaf still cannot resist the call of the sea, though he must now depend for fishing on the small borrowed net of a cousin living in Beirut. In this time of crisis where all the norms of life seem off kilter, even the once bountiful sea seems to conspire against him.
“I go to the sea to fish here,” Assaf said, “But there is oil on the sea, so today I caught only one kilo.”
That oil is a consequence of the war, a war that has forced Assaf and his family back to the city they have some to see as a retreat from the wars each decade seems to bring. So, he will be up again tomorrow at 5 a.m. moving his family from the edge of the parking lot, and waiting along with 915,000 others for the chance to go back home.