World Refugee Day: No one ever thinks they will be called a refugee

For refugees and internally displaced persons in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, and elsewhere, every aspect of daily life is difficult. The crisis in Syria is also placing pressure on host communities. In the run up to World Refugee Day, Adeline Guerra, Oxfam Regional Campaigns and Communications Adviser, reflects on the challenges faced by refugees and calls for more funding to help both refugees and host communities.

Children hide behind water tanks while clothes dry outside flimsy tents in the Mediterranean sunshine. We have arrived at a refugee settlement in the Lebanese Bekaa valley. Here, it’s the little things that matter. A 65-year-old Syrian woman who has welcomed us to her tent proudly brandishing an oil lamp. Inside a TV is placed in the corner of an otherwise empty “home.” There’s also a jerry-can of water and some corrugated iron for the makeshift toilets, shared by the 40 families living here.

Young Syrian boys from an informal refugee settlement in Ghaza, in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, sit between the central water tanks that supply the camp. Credit: Maya Hautefeuille/Oxfam In a thin fabric fortress, elders recall the day they left Syria. Not far behind the nearby mountains of the Bekaa, Syria is now left to the imagination or else seen through pictures of destruction held on precious mobile phones, people’s last connection to a lost land. Only what is recalled as the glorious past brings some sentiment of joy and sorrow to their faces.  

It was a hot day in early June when my colleagues and I visited these communities where Oxfam has been working for the past few years. The refugees we met were struggling to cope with loss, grief and the daunting feeling of not belonging. Yet, despite facing immense challenges, most Syrian refugees are still living day by day, making it work because they have to, carrying on despite the relentless news of further death and annihilation in their home country.

Those of us living far away from these areas do not see the scale and the impact of human suffering generated by the crisis. Our Oxfam colleagues working in Lebanon, inside Syria and in Jordan hear of such stories every day.

For refugees and internally displaced persons in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, every aspect of daily life is difficult. They face the challenge of trying to find work,  and their children often miss out on education. The influx of new inhabitants also places a strain on local populations sharing limited resources. Living alongside each other is not easy in the current context. Oxfam and partners are working with communities towards fostering an increased sense of solidarity. while populations are facing serious strains on infrastructure, public services, such as water and sanitation, as well as access to health care and work.

The truth is that no one ever thinks they will be called a refugee. But behind each faceless number is a life. To date, 1.2 million Syrians are living in Lebanon. Almost 4 million have fled Syria, while 7.6 million are displaced inside the country. Countless lives are suspended in time awaiting a return to normality, whatever that might look like.

A Syrian woman watches workers build Oxfam latrines in an informal refugee settlement in Lebanon’s Northern Bekaa where she lives with her family of 6. Photo: Oriol Andres Gallart/Oxfam

In Ghazzeh, a small town 90 minutes East of Beirut where refugees out-number local residents, we visited a “cash for work” program funded by the Italian Cooperation, and run in collaboration with the local municipality. A dozen people, both Lebanese and Syrian refugees, work daily in the Gazzeh Solid Waste Management facility, sifting through up to 8 tons of waste. Despite the smell of waste, people are smiling at the thought of being busy, feeling part of a team, and most of all earning money to support their families.

This week Oxfam and partners in Lebanon, Jordan, Italy, Quebec and Wales are holding a variety of events to mark World Refugee Day, bringing Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians under one roof in a fun, friendly atmosphere, which also marks the approach of Ramadan. With these events, we hope to continue reminding governments of their responsibility to do their fairshare for Syrians, who are experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

We are calling on governments to allocate more funds to the humanitarian response, to allow more cash for work activities such as those described in the Bekaa Valley, and to support long-term development in neighboring countries as well as large scale programs to help welcome and resettle vulnerable refugees.

This entry posted by Adeline Guerra (@AdelineGuerra), Oxfam Regional Campaigns and Communications Adviser, on 17 June 2015.

Photos:

  • A Syrian woman refugee in Zaatari camp, 2014. Credit: F. Muath/Oxfam
  • Young Syrian boys from an informal refugee settlement in Ghaza, in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, sit between the central water tanks that supply the camp. Credit: Maya Hautefeuille/Oxfam, August 2014
  • A Syrian woman watches workers build Oxfam latrines in an informal refugee settlement in Lebanon’s Northern Bekaa where she lives with her family of 6. Last winter, Oxfam installed more than 100 latrines in this area, to benefit more than 1,200 refugees. In addition, more than 160 water tanks were put in place. Credit: Oriol Andres Gallart/Oxfam, February 2015

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