News & Resources

Notes from the Field: January Beirut Trip 2016 (Part I)

A number of our law students are today preparing to fly to Beirut, Lebanon for the annual January trip, during which they will join our local staff to complete field work and learn more about refugee protection on the ground. This year, we’re thrilled to share the perspective of Hassan Ahmad, one of our participating UC Berkeley students. Hassan will write about his experiences in Lebanon every couple of days, and we’ll post them here on the blog. This is an excellent opportunity for our supporters to get a window into our effort to train the next generation of refugee lawyers, and we’re grateful for Hassan’s perspective!

Here’s Hassan’s first report from the airport, as he waits for his flight to Beirut:

Debt can be a powerful impetus. For better or worse, it can compel us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do, to meet people we wouldn’t otherwise meet, and to go where we wouldn’t otherwise go. My indebtedness to Syria and its people developed approximately 10 years ago, in almost the same spot as I now sit, in the same airport terminal. I spent a summer back then living in Damascus taking Arabic courses. I knew almost nothing about the country other than that I had a friend there doing the same thing. I remember sitting in this very terminal, almost in tears, thinking “What have I gotten myself into?” In retrospect, visiting Damascus was one of the best things I ever did. I remember my time there fondly. More than anything, I’ve never forgotten those Syrians I met in my travels who opened their homes and their hearts to foreigners such as myself.

The Syrian refugee crisis, as is well documented, remains the worst in the world today. The matrix of political conflicts within the country, consisting of both internal and external forces, has rendered ordinary Syrians homeless. Much has been written about the role of western nations in accepting Syrian refugees, and about the varied responses by world leaders. Lebanon alone, where my colleagues and I will be working in IRAP’s Beirut office, houses approximately one million refugees—a fifth of its total population. In 2015, we saw heartbreaking videos, gut wrenching images, and occasional moments of triumph in the attempts made by ordinary Syrians fleeing persecution for a better life abroad. Inherent in my psyche as a lawyer is the desire to bend the world, through the law, according to my sense of justice. I want to see more Syrians repatriated abroad. The countervailing concerns about national security and depleted economic resources in the countries where Syrians are seeking asylum just don’t convince me. At times, our common humanity has to prevail above all else.

So as I wait to board the plane for Beirut, I know that I and my IRAP colleagues will work to repay our collective debt. For all that the Syrian people have given me and many like me, and for all the Syrian refugees fleeing their country, not because they want to but because they have no other choice. We will work not only as lawyers and law students, but as those who recognize that Syrians—and all refugees—deserve what we all take for granted. They deserve our security, our tranquility, and ultimately our ability to live a peaceful and relatively unencumbered existence without the need to uproot ourselves and our families and leave the countries we love.