One Million Registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Thursday 17 April 2014

Every time I look at my boys I feel so sad. I dreamt for so long about having babies and raising them with all the love and care in the world, and now I can’t even afford to feed and clothe them properly Aya, 24

 Aya’s son Adib, 3 years old, plays with a pretend gun.  Picture Ahmad Baroudi / Save the Children

Aya, a 24 year old mother of two children, aged 3 and one years, comes from a middle class family in Syria. She got married just a few months before the conflict started and lived with her husband in his family’s large, comfortable house, which had a garden where they spent much of their time talking about plans for the future. The conflict in Syria put an abrupt end to their plans and they were forced to leave their house and flee to Lebanon. They are now living in an informal settlement in the Bekaa region. Aya works from dawn to dusk in the fields, earning just $4 a day, so she can feed her children.

“Every mother wants the best for her children. All girls dream about having babies and raising children, and even before I got married, I had long dreamt about what lay ahead.

I come from a big family in Syria, as does my husband.  We had an amazing wedding and everything seemed to be just perfect. My husband was a plumber and he and his brothers had a good plumbing business, which was doing well. His family’s home was enormous and there were ten bedrooms, all with ensuite bathrooms. The garden was especially wonderful and romantic, and had all sorts of flowers growing in it.  In the yard, stood a swing and several bikes for the children, in addition to plenty of toys because this was a family house and every child in the family had spent their childhood playing in this yard. My husband and I would sit here for hours and talk about love, family, our future, hopes for children and our dreams and desires.

A few months after we were married, the conflict in Syria began. In the beginning, we were not that concerned as we thought it would end and everything would return to normal.  However, it didn’t end and quickly intensified and suddenly no one was able to work or visit their neighbours anymore because of the snipers who were targeting everyone. Then the shelling started. This was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. Two fell on our house, and I saw our beautiful garden on fire; the roses, the swing, everything was destroyed in one second and we didn’t even have the chance to look back. We ran for our lives without being able to take anything with us.

When I had had my first baby we were still living in that house and all the women of the family had showered me with new baby clothes and toys and a small wooden cot for the baby to sleep in. I can remember every single piece of baby clothes, but it’s all in my head, as I had to leave everything behind. His baby brother has since been born and because we’ve been displaced, everything he has ever worn has been second hand and worn. I find this heart breaking. Every time I look at my boys I feel so sad. I dreamt for so long about having babies and raising them with all the love and care in the world, and now I can’t even afford to feed and clothe them properly.

When we arrived in Lebanon we were already penniless after spending a year moving from place to place within Syria. During this year, we spent all the savings we had, so now are forced to live in a small tent with two other families. There are no job opportunities for the men here, and only some opportunities for women to find work. I have never worked before, and used to just cook and look after my family.

Now I have to wake up before the sunrise and work in our landlord’s field until it gets dark. I feel like a slave and feel as if we are treated like slaves here. However, it’s the only opportunity we have to earn some money to feed the family, and I earn $4 a day, which is barely enough to buy bread. Back in Syria, our only concern about food had been about what to do with the left overs. We used to eat meat, fresh vegetables, fruit, honey, milk and cheese. Everything we wanted was available and affordable. Now, I feed my children bread and tea.  I feel happy when I can bring back some vegetables after a day’s work, because my children haven’t eaten fresh food in months. All we eat is rice, bulgur and bread, and even then rice and bulgur is not always available.

This war has destroyed our children’s life. The whole generation is lost. The only things the children talk about now is about aeroplanes, shelling, death, arrest and war. Yesterday, there was a helicopter flying at a low altitude overhead and a nine year old girl who was playing outside our tent started shouting, “Look, it is so close we can bring it down with a Kalashnikov!!”

Since the conflict started the only thing the children watch on TV is the news. There are no cartoons anymore. When they play together, the only game they play is war; they use sticks as rifles and stones as grenades and they pretend to be soldiers. This war didn’t just destroy a country; it has destroyed the human inside of us. It has destroyed our children’s future. We need this war to end soon, before it also destroys our children’s hopes for the future. “

Context and background

For more than three years the conflict in Syria has devastated the lives of millions of Syrians and triggered the biggest exodus of refugees in recent history. There are an estimated 9.3 million people inside Syria in need of assistance and more than 2.8 million people have fled to neighbouring countries. Every day, thousands more refugees arrive in Lebanon in desperate need of assistance; most of them have lost everything they owned.

On April 3rd the UNHCR announced the arrival of the millionth registered refugee in Lebanon. Lebanese government estimates indicate another 500,000 unregistered refugees are also seeking refuge here in this tiny country of just over 4 million people. As the numbers of refugees in Lebanon continues to increase, the demand on public services like education, health, water, housing, electricity and sewage has reached an unsustainable level.

Today, one third of the country’s inhabitants are refugees and more than half a million of these refugees are children. An estimated 250,000 are under four years old; most have known little but terror, displacement and deprivation in their short lives. Thousands more were born as refugees in Lebanon; their families uprooted and scattered, their homes and parents’ livelihoods destroyed. Their chances of receiving an education currently stand at 20 per cent. One third of them will live in a makeshift tent or shelter not fit for human habitation.

Having escaped the conflict, the reality of life in Lebanon is fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. Most refugee families have long since used up any savings and assets and are struggling to cope in an environment where the cost of living is much higher than in Syria but opportunities for work, education or training are almost non-existent.

The rental market is saturated, rents have skyrocketed and most families cannot afford even the most basic accommodation. Increasingly they are looking for makeshift shelter in informal settlements and unfinished buildings, which are now home to more than 500,000 refugees across Lebanon. Conditions in both informal settlements and unfinished buildings are abysmal and provide little protection from the damp and the cold. Most of the settlements lack even the most basic water and sanitation services.

Save the Children has undergone a massive scale up to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable refugees, delivering an integrated response and providing almost 290,000 beneficiaries with shelter, education, child protection, FSL and health services. We have supported 11,000 families in the run up to winter, by either reinforcing current shelters in informal settlements or providing newly arrived families with a full shelter kit. We have also been rehabilitating unfinished buildings and providing shelter support to locations across Lebanon since the start of our response.

Through our education programmes more than 20,000 children are able to access some form of schooling, either within schools or in non-formal settings.  Our psychosocial support centres give children safe places to play and have fun. For older children we provide life skills building and community engagement opportunities to help ensure refugee and vulnerable Lebanese youth are able to play a proactive role in their societies. We have provided vulnerable families with cash support, and cash for work interventions as well as non-food items like cooking equipment, mattresses and blankets.

Throughout the winter months we provided additional cash payments to cover the costs of stoves, fuel and winter clothing. We also provide free paediatric and reproductive health consultations and our community health workers carry out door to door visits raising awareness on hygiene issues, malnutrition and key health messages.