Syrian refugees in Lebanon: 'People are desperately in need of some little bit of help' • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights
The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Syrian refugees in Lebanon: ‘People are desperately in need of some little bit of help’

When Abdel Jalil Al Sharif was interviewed by the Irish Examiner last May, he spoke of the despair of existing rather than living.

At the time, the father-of-five, who fled to Lebanon after his house in Aleppo in Syria was blown up during the war in 2015, was living in a small apartment in Beirut.

The former farm labourer, who is one of an estimated 1.5m Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, spoke of how dire things were for him and his family, and how sometimes he just walks the streets of the city because he doesn’t know what else to do.

“Nothing is improving for us to even consider the future,” he said, in his interview, which was published last June.

“We are spiralling down. We are despairing.

“So, it is just a matter of existing. And day to day, we are just existing. We just eat, sleep and drink.

“We are just in survival mode.”

His monthly costs were about 7m Lebanese pounds — around $140 at the time — and well below what is known as the ‘survival minimal expenditure basket indicator’.

This is used to measure the cost of the bare minimum amount of food a family of five would need to survive each month, and in Lebanon, the survival index was about $200.

Today, Mr Al Sharif is still living in the same cramped apartment and still tries to survive on monthly subsistence allowances from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and help from the World Food Programme.

Back in May, this help came to about $80, which doesn’t go very far.

Medicine for his 15-year-old daughter, who often has to stay at a clinic where she gets treatment for scoliosis, costs about 2m Lebanese pounds a month, or about $40.

Added to that, his costs included paying the equivalent of $28 a month for the use of a communal generator.

These UNHCR and World Food Programme (WFP) aids supplement whatever he can manage to earn from whatever work he can get.

Back in May, this was about 3m Lebanese pounds — worth about $60 at the time — if he was lucky.

But his cost of living has since shot up, while the value of the Lebanese pound against the US dollar and other currencies has plummeted.

His rent was 1.2m Lebanese pounds a month last May, and one of his biggest fears then was that — like so many other tenants — he faced having to pay his rent in dollars, which in his case would amount to $40 at the time.

Asked how the family is getting on today, UNHCR Lebanon head of communications Paula Barrachina said: “Their situation is extremely difficult.

“Given the current closure of schools, as is the case for children in Lebanon who are attending public education, they are not going to school, even if they are enrolled.

“The family still lives in the same house in Hamra.

“However, since October 2022, they started paying $100 for rent per month — which is equivalent to 5.1m Lebanese pounds.

“When you visited them in May 2022, they used to pay 1.2m Lebanese pounds.

“This is an example of how the cost of living has increased in Lebanon, making it extremely challenging for parents to provide for their families.”

The situation for people in Lebanon is extremely difficult, much more than the outside world realises.

“The economic crisis in Lebanon has resulted in a sharp deterioration of the situation of both Lebanese and refugees, increasing humanitarian needs and negative coping mechanisms for everyone.

“Refugees continue to face a sharp decline in their living conditions, with even the most basic needs being out of reach.”

As Ms Barrachina points out, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 95% of its value in less than three years, as prices of essential items and services have skyrocketed by over 700%.

Last year alone, the average monthly rent for all shelter types — including tents in informal settlements — increased by 176%.

This is all added to the fact that Lebanon is currently dealing with a cholera outbreak.

She also said some 95% of Syrian refugee families are in need of humanitarian assistance to survive.

And while things are bad enough for refugees, they are getting worse for the Lebanese, who have been hit by bank closures, cash shortages, power cuts, fuel shortages, rising food prices, and increasing demonstrations across the country.

The day Defence Minister Micheál Martin visited Irish peacekeepers recently, for example, various towns and villages were temporarily shut down due to protesters burning tyres and laying them across major routes, including the main highway into Beirut.

Irishman Stephen Ryan is one of a number of international aid workers who, like Ms Barrachina, continue to try and remind people about the refugee crisis in Lebanon at a time when — partly because of the conflict in Ukraine — interest in crises elsewhere in the world has waned.

Mr Ryan, a Mallow native whose postings have previously included Ukraine, India, and Liberia, is based in the city where he has worked since December 2021 as International Committee of the Red Cross communications adviser.

The 38-year-old, who has lived and worked overseas with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement since 2007, has also held various other communications roles with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

He told the Irish Examiner: “The economic crisis that is here makes it hard for everybody.

“I can see that people are struggling more and more.

“I can see more people seeking help on the street and I see more people struggling.

“The thing that affects me is that when I look around, I can see that while people are doing their best, it’s beginning to look like they are in a boat just constantly bailing out the water.

“It has become a constant struggle for so many to keep their family afloat, struggling to cover the daily costs of life, food, water, accommodation, and electricity — if you can get it.”

When he spoke to the Irish Examiner last May, he and his colleagues in other agencies, like the UNHCR, were concerned that what is happening in Lebanon is going largely unnoticed in a humanitarian news agenda dominated by Ukraine.

“All around the world there are conflicts that are happening all of the time that don’t make the news, and some of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world are in this region,” he said.

“You have massive needs in Lebanon because of the Syria crisis, and there are massive needs in Yemen, which hardly gets any coverage anymore.

“There are also massive humanitarian needs in Iraq.

“I know it is difficult for a small country [like Ireland] to remain committed to helping people that are in faraway places that don’t always make the news all of the time.

“But there are people out there who are desperately in need of some little bit of help.

“The conflict in Ukraine is definitely on the minds of many people around the world and the need to help people affected.

“But the conflict in Syria which has been going on for 12 years, is no longer getting the same headlines as it used to maybe 12 years or even two years ago.

Just because the cameras are no longer pointing in this direction or just because journalists are mainly covering Ukraine, doesn’t mean that the challenges that people are facing in this part of the world have lessened.”

He added: “It’s fair to say the ripple effect that many people felt in many parts of the world — like in Ireland — because of the conflict of Ukraine, has also hit Lebanon.”

He added there is a world of difference between the Irish and the Lebanese experience of this ripple effect on our respective cost of living.

“The difference is that the cushion you might have in Ireland does not exist in Lebanon,” he said.

“There is no buffer zone if you have used up all your savings and there is nothing more for you to sell.”



Source: Irish Examiner

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Observatory.