confesses to having purchased four children near Ramlet el Baida beach recently
from a stressed --out Syrian woman. I am not sure if she was as she appeared to
be or was from one of human trafficking gangs which operate widely these days
in Lebanon as they market Syrian children or vulnerable adult women. The vendor woman claimed to have been the
four children's neighbor in Aleppo and that the they (two five year old twin
girls, a boy about one year and a few months and his bigger brother eight years
old-shown in the photo below on this observer's motorbike a few days after he bought
them) lost their parents in the war.
She and they ended up in Lebanon but she explained to me that she was afraid to register with the UNHCR because she is an illegal and has no ID. The woman told me that she could no longer take care of the shivering children, did not want to just leave them on the street and would give them all to me for $ 1000 or I could pick and choose from the sibling for $ 250 each.
Completely shocked, I started to get on my motorbike and said disgustingly "khalas!" and looked around for a police car. I looked backed over my shoulder and saw that the children were very frightened, soaked from the rain, very cold and appeared hungry. Without thinking, I instantly offered the seller $ 600 for all four brothers and sisters and she took it, saying she was going to Turkey and would try to get to Lebos Island, off Greece.
The lady gave me ten minutes to go to an ATM and get the $ 600 cash. She demanded dollars not Lebanese currency. The children seemed to understand what was happening and their eyes fixated on me.
What was racing through my mind as I mounted my motorbike and searched for an ATM were the expressions on the faces of these angels as their 'caregiver' bargained their fate.
Also I was acutely mindful of statistics that are well known around here these days. That nearly 14 million in Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. More than half are children who are at risk of becoming ill from malnourishment or, abused and exploited. Most of us here know of many horror stories from all over Syria and the villages just an hour's drive from the Lebanon border, such as Madaya and Zabadani where children under vicious siege were forced to survive on animal feed and soup made of whatever weeds could be found. We read the media reports that more than 20 died of starvation in during 2015 and a dozen reported cases of babies dying because their mothers were too ill and weak to produce milk for them or if there was a local clinic it lacked, baby formula or ran out of infant IV's. In Moadamiyeh, just a few miles from the capital Damascus, three newborn babies died last month after medical staff ran out of IV bags
I thought about the scale of exploitation faced by Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, of the tens of thousands sleeping rough these frigid nights and the countless thousands who every day are easy prey for abuse. I thought about the fact that Refugee relief efforts in Lebanon are chronically underfunded and that even UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) has been forced to cut aid from all but the neediest of refugees due to insufficient funds.
I thought of that recent Save the Children report of their survey showing that more than a third of the 126 residents they interviewed reported that their children often go without a single meal a day and a quarter have seen children in their towns dying because of lack of food.
I thought about the intense vicious anti-refugee harangues from Lebanese politicians that Syrian refugees pose a threat to the country's security and economic stability even though the menial jobs they do find are not likely to replace many in any Lebanese job holders. Many fear mongering Lebanese politicians even make The Donald appear somehow compassionate.
I thought about the Syrian children I see daily begging as they wander Beirut's streets selling chewing gum, flowers, or shining shoes. And I thought about the 11 and 12 year old girls, some of whom I have come to be acquainted with from my visits to the beach where I like to go to take a break and stare into the Mediterranean and just think about life and talk to those anti-social fiddler crabs who pop up from their homes along the beach, grab something and disappear quick.
These beautiful innocent children skip along or pace the Ramlet el Baida corniche waiting for cars with blackened windows to pull up. And they do regularly. Then the pedophiles molest the children for a few dollars before pulling off and disappearing into the traffic. Sometimes keeping the children with them. This observer has given the local police photos of some of their license plates but one supervisor at the Hamra police station regretted that the cops are too overwhelmed with other matters to get very involved in these cases. More than once I was given a shoulder shrug and upturned palms in reference to the case of a young girl "Leila" that I have reported more than once. One female police officer told me: "Well, at least she is earning some money for her family."
This observer recently wrote some friends about the same "Leila" a twelve year old sweetheart who worked the Ramlet el Baida beach strip. Her friends on the strip have since reported to me that "Leila" never returned from "work" last week and they have no idea what has become of her.
Approximately one half of the Syrian women with children who have been forced to flee to Lebanon have lost their husbands and often their adult sons to the war. Most not having held jobs outside the home before are now forced, besides their role of working mother, into the additional roles of father, big sister, big brother, and best friend for her children. Manar, a Palestinian social worker in Shatila camp reports that "the mothers have become their children's everything."