Mahmud Zayyat, AFP
Last updated: 14 January, 2014

Syria refugee turns 100 in Lebanon, dreams of return home

Hallum Al-Amin has just marked her 100th birthday, but the celebration took place far from her home in Syria, which she fled last year to become a refugee in Lebanon.

“I’m afraid I’m going to die outside my homeland,” she told AFP a few days after celebrating her landmark birthday, in a village near the southern Lebanese town of Tyre.

“I’m waiting for the hour when we’ll return to Syria,” she adds. “Home is precious.”

Age has robbed her of some of her hearing, and Amin is almost bent in half with age, but her memory is undiminished and she can recall the names of all 13 of her grandchildren.

She works with some of them to feed wood into a stove, which the family gathers around for warmth.

“It would have been better for me to stay in the village, despite what was happening and the poverty there,” she says.

“I’m afraid of dying far from my land, my heart is here with my children, but my mind is there, in Kansafra, in Idlib,” she adds.

Idlib, in northwest Syria, is among the provinces most affected by the country’s conflict, which has killed more than 130,000 people since March 2011.

Amin was so reluctant to leave that at first her family went to Lebanon without her. But eventually they persuaded her to join them.

“It’s true that I’m happy to me with my children and grandchildren, but my joy will be even greater when I go back to Syria,” she says.

More than 860,000 Syrian refugees have fled the conflict in their country for Lebanon since the war began in March 2011, according to official UN figures, though the number is likely much higher.

Amin receives visitors seated in the corner of one of the rooms of the family’s modest home.

It has two large rooms, a sitting room and a kitchen, and is sparsely furnished, with just a few basic items to meet the family’s needs.

“We were desperate to get her out of Kansafra because the situation there became incredibly dangerous,” says 25-year-old Ahmed al-Ahmed, one of her grandchildren.

“It’s our duty to protect our grandmother and we love to have her here with us and give her a little of the tenderness that she has given us.”

Amin doesn’t know her exact birthday, only that she was born in 1914.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR gave her a January 1 birthday and she marked her 100th year at the beginning of 2014.

“This long life is culminating with an story of displacement,” says Ahmed. “We hope it won’t last long.”

“Grandma always asks us: why did you bring me with you here? Is it worth it to live longer? I’m 100 years old.”

Amin makes no secret of her desire to return home.

“I left the land that I was born in and that I lived in for 100 years,” she says.

“Isn’t that much more precious than what’s left of my life?”