Syrian refugees in Lebanon: “We are not alone”

“So mummy are we beggars now?” is a question Sahra’s daughters asked her. It’s virtually the first thing she tells us when we visit her and other women refugees in Shabreeha, South Lebanon. The women have been in Lebanon between four and ten months. Sahra (35), her husband and three children fled the conflict in Syria with little but the clothes they were wearing. The clothes have had a lot of wear. She says, “My children are ashamed when they go out.”

Before leaving Syria the family moved from place to place, leaving their few possessions in different houses because they could no longer carry them or the fighting was so fierce they didn’t have chance to collect them. “We moved to places I’d never even heard of! My family would ring me and ask ‘Where are you?’ and I’d say the name of the place and they’d say, ‘Where is that?’ but I didn’t know where it was even though I’m Syrian.”

I asked Sahra what she said to her children when they asked her about being beggars: “I told them we are not alone. A lot of people are going through this. If we are going to live we have to accept help from these organizations. Your father can’t find a job and we need to live.” Adding sadly, “but they find it very hard.”

Jobs are scarce and food is costly

Syrian refugees find that groceries are much more expensive in Lebanon. Oxfam's vouchers will support 150,000 people displaced by the conflict in Syria. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Sahra’s eldest daughter, who is 16, trained to be a hairdresser and is looking for a job. “She has a lot of empathy with her father. He can’t find a job and has a bad back, a slipped disc. The work he can do is limited, so she wants to find work instead. She’s already written a list of what she is going to get each member of the family. She wants to buy new trousers for one of her sisters. For another sister she wants to buy new shoes, which she badly needs as her old ones are falling apart. She wants to buy me a new dress. She also said to me, ‘Mum, make me a list of what you want from the Co-op (supermarket) and I’ll go and get everything as soon as I get a job and get paid.’”

Sadly as Sahra says the family is not alone. There are now over 490,000 refugees living in Lebanon. While some are living in conventional apartments, many are unable to afford the rental prices, which have doubled or tripled in the last few months. Many refugees are now living in damp, dark garages, hastily constructed wooden shelters and poor tented settlements. Any money people were able to bring with them is rapidly spent. Sahra and the other women report that food and other essential items are much more expensive in Lebanon than in Syria. Her daughter’s prospects of gaining employment are poor, as local Lebanese and Syrian refugees compete for few jobs. The outlook is bleak. Sahra and the other women believe that despite longing to go home they will not be back in Syria for a long time.

Sahra’s family received a winterization kit (including a mattress, four pillows, and two blankets), vouchers for hygiene and food items. This Oxfam program was supported through funds from the Government of the Netherlands.

Oxfam is calling on international donors to continue supporting the Syria humanitarian response by giving more funds. The UN-led Syria response program is around 60 percent funded.

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Oxfam is aiming to reach 650,000 people in the next 12 months, however our work is just 23% funded. We still very much need your support.

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Crisis in Syria: The situation and what Oxfam is doing

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