One evening in March, 15-year-old Ayat Hariri—a Syrian refugee in Lebanon—emerged in front of a packed house at a popular bistro in Beirut. She began narrating the story of how when she first came to Lebanon five years earlier, she had thought she was a tourist. “I was wondering, why is it taking so long at the military check points?” she said, recalling the 80-kilometre drive from Deraa, a city in Syria. Just ten years old at the time, Hariri had not understood the chaos descending on her country.
Her parents had told her that the family was on a holiday to meet her father, who lived and earned handsomely in Beirut. After having lived a year in Lebanon, Hariri’s family finally enrolled her in a school. This is when she first found out why they were not going back to Syria. “I started to understand what a ‘tourist’ means and what a ‘refugee’ means,” she told the audience.
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Anchal Vohra is a journalist who covers West Asia and Europe. She has also reported on South Asia for over a decade.