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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
Lebanon's refugees seek new home
By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News website

Nadine Jojo, a refugee from Lebanon
Nadine Jojo hopes to remain in Britain after fleeing Lebanon

Most of the thousands of British passport holders evacuated from Lebanon moved on to visit family or their own properties on returning to these shores.

But for some, Lebanon was their only home, and they have nowhere to go in Britain.

Some 600 or so evacuees were flown into Stansted airport from Cyprus, where they had been evacuated by the Royal Navy from Beirut.

Of this number, 22 families - a total of 64 people - remain homeless. They were first put up in the airport's Hilton hotel, and are now in student accommodation in Colchester.

But even this is a temporary measure, with Uttlesford District Council attempting to organise their next move in about a month's time, although where to has yet to be decided.

A sense of community has quickly built up amongst the group, who are made up of Lebanese in possession of British passports.

I was left with the clothes I had on and a purse
Nadine Jojo

At the accommodation, boys play football in the sunshine and chat to the building's cleaning ladies, who fuss round them.

Amongst the groups of young women gathered together - many in hijabs - is 24-year-old university student Nadine Jojo, who fled the city of Tyre, in southern Lebanon, with her mother.

When the crisis began she sheltered in her grandmother's housing block but the building next door, which Nadine says housed the Lebanese civil defence offices, was blown up by Israeli forces.

The blast impacted on those sheltering nearby and Nadine said: "Everything was in a mess. The building was shaking, there was dust everywhere... people were shouting, looking for their children. It was like the end of the world.

'Fearful for future'

"Then someone shouted 'There's been a massacre.' When we went outside there were bodies everywhere, not just civil defence people but civilians too. Later we heard 16 people had died but I think there were more in the rubble.

"That's when we decided we had to get out of the country. But when we returned to my house we couldn't open the front door because the air pressure from the bomb blast had sealed it shut. I was left with the clothes I had on and a purse."

She admits to fearing for the future: "We have the feeling of being lost. We don't know what's next.

"They say we're staying in this place for a month, but what's after that? There's a fear of the unknown.

"I don't want to go back. I don't trust that it's never going to happen again, especially in the south of Lebanon. It's a really dangerous area.

"I can only hope everything is going to be OK. I can only hope."

Hassan Charaff Deen
Hassan Charaff Deen is anxious for news from his home city of Tyre

Grocery store owner Hassan Charaff Deen, aged 52, fled Tyre with his wife and three children when the bombardment began.

He qualified for a British passport through being born in an African colony and is anxious to learn of any news from his home city.

"I feel very happy to be in Britain at any time but it's a very bad situation. We worry for many people who are still over there," he said.

"When the bombing was going on my family was very frightened. We heard explosions and aircraft flying around the city all night. There were many people crying when they saw very terrible things."

Hassan said he would like to remain in Britain because of the ongoing problems in that part of the Middle East.

"This has been a problem in Lebanon for 30 years, it's very hard to solve this matter. If I stay in London and Britain then that's my pleasure."

It took 20 years to build Lebanon up and four days to bring it back down
Lebanese refugee

One 30-year-old Lebanese woman, who arrived with her mother and two-year-old daughter, agreed to speak but asked not to be identified.

She became eligible for British overseas territories citizenship through her father.

She lived in the north of Lebanon and had returned to the country, after years of living abroad, just three weeks before the current conflict broke out.

"It's very frustrating and sad too because just two weeks ago we had everything. Then we were on a ship as refugees. It's like a dream that no-one can believe or understand.

"It took 20 years to build Lebanon up and four days to bring it back down.

"Everything had been going well for me. I'd got a job days after arriving back in Lebanon as an English teacher but being a refugee is like being a born-again child. You have to learn everything all over again."

'Grateful to England'

She said her British passport was a document she kept "in a cupboard" and never paid much attention to - she also holds Lebanese citizenship.

"I never thought I'd ever end up one day having to use it in this way," she said.

"I never thought very much about this country until I got here, but everything humane is in England. I'm grateful for everything every single person has done for us."

Despite her desperate situation, she retains a glimmer of optimism. "Do we have the right to ask what the future lies? Whatever comes we have to swallow. In 10 years this conflict will happen again.

"But we were one of the lucky ones. Yes, that's it. We were one of the lucky ones."

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