Syrian refugee father of four hangs himself in Lebanon

AFP , Thursday 17 Jan 2013

Disappointed by the lack of opportunities in a camp in Lebanon, a Syrian father of four who fled the war hangs himself after he failed to earn a livelihood to support his family

A Syrian refugee child poses during U.S. actress Mia Farrow's visit to the camp in Baalbeck, Bekaa valley January 15, 2013. ( Photo: REUTERS)

Desperate and unable to provide for his wife and four daughters, a Syrian refugee who swapped deadly violence in Damascus for destitution in Lebanon hanged himself on Tuesday.

"He told us he was going to buy dinner for the children. Later, we searched for him in the house, and found him hanging from a noose upstairs," said his wife Rima Bakkar, who suffered a nervous breakdown after finding her husband dead.

Previously a resident of the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in south Damascus, Mohammed Melsi, 35, was one of thousands of people who fled the Syrian capital for what was supposed to be safe haven in neighbouring Lebanon.

He arrived in southern Lebanon with his family about a month ago, renting an unfurnished apartment in the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp.

Thousands of Syrian refugee families have set up home in Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps where accommodation is cheaper than in other areas of the country.

Sitting inside Ain al-Helweh's Al-Aqsa hospital, Melsi's grief-stricken widow broke down as she recounted the family's story.

"Mohammed suffered a lot recently and was very disappointed by the lack of opportunities here in the camp. He tried to earn a livelihood to support us, but was unsuccessful," said Rima.

Originally from Idlib province in northwestern Syria, Melsi moved to Yarmuk camp where he worked in a textile factory.

In recent weeks, deadly clashes between rebels and government troops have rocked the camp and a series of air strikes in mid-December prompted tens of thousands to flee.

Although the family made it across the border to Lebanon, Melsi was unable to make ends meet.

"Mohammed's psychological state worsened after he was unable to pay the rent for our home or afford the milk and asthma medication for our eight-month-old baby," Rima told AFP.

At the Palestinian Red Crescent-run hospital in the southern port city of Sidon where Melsi's body was taken, his neck bore the scar of the noose.

The rope was still hanging from the ceiling in the upper storey where he killed himself. In life it had been where he went to smoke, away from his asthmatic daughter.

A member of the Palestinian popular committees in Ain al-Helweh, Fuad Othman, accused international institutions of "not fulfilling their humanitarian responsibilities" towards Syrian refugees like Melsi.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) helps registered Palestinian refugees but its remit does not extend to Syrian refugees.

"We have received dozens of complaints from displaced Syrians who have taken refuge in Ain al-Helweh and said they did not receive any aid," Othman said.

"UNRWA's answer is that they are Syrians and this aid is dedicated to the Palestinians."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are 200,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The Lebanese government, which has promised to keep its border open to refugees, called in early December for $363 million to cope with the influx.

At the entrance of the now fatherless home, a group of women gathered on the stoop, their faces pained with grief.

"The tragedies in Syria are what brought this family here, may God help them," said Najiba Ali, an elderly neighbour, as she rose to offer Rima her condolences.

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