By Marina Bellot, Secours Catholique/Caritas France
Life is increasingly difficult for Syrian refugees in Lebanon now winter has come. However, Caritas Lebanon is by their side.
Syrians who cross the border to Lebanon are looking for one thing for themselves and their families : to live in peace. Some 132,000 Syrian refugees have been registered by the UN refugee agency since the brutal conflict began in their country. Eighty percent are women and children who have fled, leaving behind their homes, their lives and their loved ones, who they sometimes later discover were killed in the war.
Once across the border, some refugees are taken in by host families, particularly in the north of Lebanon where there are strong ties between the two peoples. Others rent small rooms which are sometimes home to more than a dozen people. But with the conflict entering its second year, the welcome is wearing out and in some places it’s impossible to find a bed. For those less fortunate, the only choice is to take refuge in a camp. These are plots of land where the refugees can put up a tent or shelter for a few dollars a month.
Survival through solidarity
“Winter is the big problem now,” says Kamal Sioufi, from Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre. In the Bekaa Valley, where most of the refugees are staying, temperatures regularly drop below zero at night and heating oil is expensive. Oil for one day’s heating can cost US$6. How can people afford that if they only earn US$15 a day? With funding from Secours Catholique, Caritas Lebanon has launched a project to provide wood stoves and tarpaulins to protect tents from the rain and cold.
Many of the refugees have great difficulty in covering their basic needs. Life is much more expensive in Lebanon than in Syria and work is hard to come by, especially in winter. The men find odd jobs either in farming or building, but rarely for more than ten days a month, this means US$150 a month to live on for the luckiest – just enough to pay the rent. To cover the rest of their needs, people have to rely on charity: people giving them furniture or a mattress or lending them money when they need it; or on humanitarian agencies such as Caritas Lebanon giving them food and hygiene kits.
Syrian children at school
The Lebanese government doesn’t give material help to the refugees but does offer free renewal of the refugees’ residence permits. Above all, it is allowing Syrian children to go to Lebanon’s state schools …for a fee of US$100, plus school materials and the bus fare to get to school. The cost of all this is impossible for most families so Caritas funds school fees and materials and gives Syrian children support in doing their homework.
Apart from all of the material difficulties of the refugees’ lives, they are facing a level of suffering which cannot be alleviated. There’s the physical suffering of injuries from the war or poor living and hygiene conditions. There’s low morale caused by the atrocities they’ve seen, the loss of their homes and the on-going fear that they’ll lose their loved ones who are still in Syria. No one knows when this is all going to end, but everyone hopes to return home soon.