Left behind: Iraqi refugees in Lebanon

Iraqi refugees who fled the last tens years of turmoil in their country face economic hardship in Lebanon. Credit CLMC

Iraqi refugees who fled the last tens years of turmoil in their country face economic hardship in Lebanon. Credit CLMC

Iraqi refugees who fled to Lebanon after the 2003 US-led military invasion risk being “left behind” according to a new Caritas Lebanon study.

In “Left Behind: A Needs Assessment of Iraqi Refugees Present in Lebanon”, Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center says nearly all remaining Iraqi refugee families it spoke to are facing a daily struggle for survival. (Download the report from the CLMC website).

“Iraqi refugees have fallen out of the spotlight in the last few years because of their dwindling numbers and that the Syrian crisis has taken much of the international attention,” said Najla Chahda, director of the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center. “Those Iraqi refugees who remain in Lebanon feel left behind and forgotten.”

Over 2.5 million Iraqis fled their country as a result of the US-led military operations that began in 2003 and the resulting sectarian conflict. Around 50,000 went to Lebanon. The number has since dwindled to 2500 people, but those remaining are facing increasing hardship.

Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center surveyed 768 Iraqi families in 2014. Most had fled directly from Iraq but a fifth had fled to Syria first before the conflict there forced them to Lebanon.

The survey shows that 71.8 percent say they’re economically worse off than when they lived in Iraq and 66 percent say they’re poorer now than when they first arrived in Lebanon. They blamed high unemployment rates, low salaries and rising rents and costs for basic goods.

“Deteriorating economic conditions in Lebanon and a flood of cheap labour from Syrian refugees have caught Iraqi refugees in a near impossible situation of declining income opportunities and rising prices,” said Najla Chahda.

“The overall poor economic conditions in Lebanon have overwhelmed Iraqi refugees assets and coping mechanisms to the point where nearly all face a daily struggle,” she said.

The survey shows that psychological stress is high among Iraqi refugees, with over half of those asked reporting feelings of distress. One in ten children must work so that families can make ends meet.

One in ten Iraqi refugee children are involved in child labour according to the study. Credit: CLMC.

One in ten Iraqi refugee children are involved in child labour according to the study. Credit: CLMC.

Many of the Iraqi families are dependent on aid for access to health and education. There has been a new influx of Iraqi refugees in 2014, fleeing persecution by ‘Islamic State’ militants. But as well as competing for jobs, the Iraqis find themselves a losing out to Syrian refugees in terms of access to benefits.

More than 90 percent of Iraqi refugees reported that they feel Syrians receive more benefits. The report says this is a source for potential conflict.

“The international community needs to have a ‘one refugee’ approach where it’s not important the origin of the refugee but that they need our continued support. Iraqi refugees still need our support. Funds available to respond to the Syrian crisis should also be used to help Iraqis,” said Najla Chahda.

Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center has been serving Iraqi refugees since 1997.

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