Two young refugees, one Christian, one Sunni Muslim, stare across the Bekaa Valley towards their Syrian homeland.
Over the mountain range lie their homes in the border town of Al Qusayr, now largely destroyed in the terrible fighting between rebels and Syrian Government forces. In Al Qusayr, Christians and Moslems lived alongside each other for generations – until the bloody civil war reached the town. They fled over the Anti-Lebanon mountains to the dusty Lebanese Christian town of El-Qaa where they have been housed – not inexpensively it has to be said – in makeshift lodgings opposite one another. The pair have become friends, although their older relatives talk to each other less.
Mary, the Christian girl and her parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, pay $300 a month for a tiny one floor shack recently used to house farm animals. Fateh, the Muslim girl lives with her family and two year old daughter in a ramshackle tent, one of six on a patch of dried mud a stone’s throw from Mary’s house. It costs $100 a month to rent but will be scant comfort as winter descends on the Bekaa Valley. While Fateh’s family may well return home to a post revolution Syria, Mary’s family are unlikely to. They were forced from their homes, not by Islamic fanatics, but by local Sunni criminals who armed themselves as fighting began and targeted Christian homes in the wealthier parts of town. They fear any new regime – whatever promises are made in the run-up to change – will be less sympathetic is Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population and have co-existed with other faiths in the Middle East for two thousand years.
An Islamist state, they believe, will be less welcoming than the current Assad regime and point to the 300,000 Iraqi Christians forced out of the country when Saddam Hussein’s Government was replaced by hardline rebels. It is an uncertain future and, with the onset of winter, an uncomfortable one for these young friends.