For Abu Nur, a Syrian war refugee in northern Lebanon, next week’s certain re-election of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad buries any hope he had of returning home soon.
It will now take a “miracle from God, the all-powerful” to end the more than three-year-old conflict in Syria, the forty-something said from his grubby lodgings in the port city of Tripoli.
His face covered with a scarf and using an alias, he recalls the mass protests in his hometown of Homs, in central Syria, calling for democratic reforms back in mid-March 2011.
“The demonstrations against the regime were a miracle and this war will only end with a miracle,” said Abu Nur, who shares a makeshift home with his wife and their five children.
Assad’s forces launched a brutal crackdown on the protests, which degenerated into a full-blown civil that has now cost more than 160,000 lives and driven millions of Syrians into exile.
On Wednesday, thousands of Syrian expats streamed to their country’s embassy in Beirut to vote in advance of controversial presidential election to be held back home on June 3.
Assad’s re-election is not in doubt in Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential poll, running against two little-known opponents.
“We dream of honest elections which allow us to elect a president who really represents the people,” said Abu Nur.
An entrepreneur who turned into an anti-regime activist before leaving Syria two years ago, he had to sell his car and belongings to finance the family’s flight into exile.
“It’s impossible for me to go back to Syria, while here our situation is going from bad to worse. The only way out is to emigrate to Canada.”
At another camp, in the lodgings of Abu Tareq, it’s the same story.
“I will never return as long as the regime is still in power,” he said. “I will only go back to freedom and democracy.”
For Ghazia al-Kur, a 42-year-old mother from Hama province whose two boys died in an air raid as they queued up at a bakery, dreams of returning home are just that — dreams.
– ‘Nothing will change’ –
“Nothing will change after the presidential election,” she said, thinking of her two daughters, who stayed behind in Syria with their father.
“If I voted, it would be like selling the blood of my children,” she said bitterly.
Their camp of 500 families is located in a poor neighbourhood from which the vile odour of sewage rises, their dwellings of cement block topped with roofs of nylon-covered planks.
Fatima and her five children live in one of them, a single room containing mattresses, a few second-hand chairs and a washbasin.
A widow, whose husband was executed in Homs, she said “we live among the rats.”
“How are we going to participate in elections when children are being massacred in Syria,” she asks.
Most of the refugees interviewed in Tripoli are Sunni Muslims and partisans of the rebellion against Assad, and consider the election to be a farce.
But others are proud to support Assad, with 75-year-old Sabah saying he will “bring back security.”