Posted by Jane Best
Although RIJ is not currently funding a project in Lebanon, it is an important country to visit because Lebanon is host to over a million Syrian refugees. Set against a population of 4 million, that means that approximately 1 in 3 of the population is a refugee, one of the highest proportions in the world.
The outflow of people from Syria has compounded a problem that is not new to Lebanon – a country that has been hosting Palestinian refugees since 1948. The irony now is that Palestinians are hosting Syrian refugees.
We met with Rita and Rashid from PARD (Popular Aid for Relief and Development) at their offices in Ard Jaloul, Beirut. RIJ has funded several projects for PARD over the last 10 years and I visited them in 2010.
They told us of the current situation relating to the refugee population in Lebanon. Of course, one of the main problems is with accommodation: rents have increased creating severe pressure on refugees who are not allowed to work in Lebanon.
It is all very complicated: Palestinian refugees come under the responsibility of UNWRA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) while Syrian
refugees come under UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees). And what is more amongst the Syrian refugees there are Palestinian Syrians who previously had the right to work in Syria.
Against this background we went with Rashid and Waoud, a Syrian member of the PARD team, to meet two families living in Daouk, an informal ‘Gathering’ near the PARD office. Gatherings have no official status whereas camps do; thus people in Gatherings receive no services such as health, water provision etc but they have some freedom to move around that people in camps do not.
Daouk was established in 1949 and was home to
200 families; recently this has more than doubled to 402 families.
People are building extra facilities themselves and the structures are very precarious looking.
Ali Saleh and his wife, Hind, pay $400 a month to live in 2 rooms with a kitchen and bathroom. Ali Saleh lost one leg 10 years ago due to diabetes and cannot work. They have
two sons – the eldest who is 19 years old works to earn the rent but the younger son cannot get work. There are no windows to their house and they cannot go far because they do not have permits.
On our second visit we met Abdi Salam and his wife who live in one room with a kitchen and bathroom for $350 per month. I asked how they heat the
room but they pointed out that six people sleeping together keep each other warm!
We chatted about the problems they face and what the future holds.
I hear similar stories all too often – surely no-one can believe that anyone chooses to be a refugee!
Through our work at RIJ we know the best way to move forward is to provide opportunities for people to recover and rebuild. Abdi Salem told us how a TV crew had filmed them and shown it on TV. “We felt so ashamed” he said.
As well as providing relief services to communities like Daouk, PARD also runs development projects that provide education and training. Some of their graduates have gone on to get jobs in other countries which makes them very proud.
I remember Mr Salam’s words: pride, dignity – they are so important!