7 Years On: Remembering Syrian Refugees
After seven years of war in Syria, more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees live in informal tented settlements, abandoned buildings, or cramped spaces in decades-old Palestinian camps within Lebanon.
Among them are the “twice refugeed”—displaced Palestinian refugees from Syria. They join the half-million Palestinian refugees already living in formal camps in Lebanon. Syrians living in tented settlements have only tarp and tin to protect them from rain or cold winters like those in Lebanon’s snowy Bekaa Valley. The dirt alleyways that run through the camps often turn to mud and slush. Most do not have access to running water or electricity. The cramped tents house an average of seven people, and some hold more than 20 in a single tent.
Over 70% of Syrians born in Lebanon have no legal status there, making them homeless and stateless.
Tens of thousands of Syrian children have been born in these tented refugee camps since the start of the Syrian war. Without legal status, they can’t access formal education, public hospitals, or any other public services. About half of all Syrian children in Lebanon are not enrolled in formal schools.
For 50 years, Anera’s main focus has been to meet the aid and development needs of Palestinian refugees in the “Near East,” following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Much of our work over the decade has been carried out in Palestinian refugee communities and camps in Lebanon. Because of Anera’s experience in these communities and within Lebanon, we are able to use our networks and experience to also respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Our priorities have not changed, but our mission to serve grows. Below are five Anera stories from programs that have benefited Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Back in 2012, Aya fled Yarmouk Camp for Palestinian refugees in Syria. “When the situation was getting tense in Yarmouk, I saw a lot of people get killed and young men get detained,” she recalls.
Last summer, Aya joined a vocational course in sewing. She attended classes for free, as part of Anera’s project non-formal education and job skills program.
“Taking these classes gave me hope that I can learn a skill that I enjoy and support my family at the same time,” Aya says. “The classes also helped me get a moment of peace away from the stressful environment at home.”
This year, Anera is taking the lead in a national back-to-school campaign implemented by the Lebanese government and UNICEF. The aim is to put children like Mohammad, Hussein, and Abdul Hafiz back on track for formal education, so they can eventually join their peers in traditional schools.
“The courses have helped us a lot, especially in math and the English language,” said Mohammad. “The Syrian curriculum is in Arabic, but here in Lebanon, you need to know English to get anywhere.”
As of now, Anera has referred about 17,130 youths and children to formal schools through its non-formal education program.
Nadia and her family live in a single shoddy room in a cowshed in northern Lebanon. It has a cement floor that becomes frigid in the winter, walls that leak rainwater, and a roof rusted with asbestos. There are no glass windows, only open holes that let in the cold despite Nadia’s best efforts to seal them with nylon bags. The region is cold and windy and winters see heavy snows.
Anera distributes humanitarian relief supplies to families like Nadia’s throughout the winter months and beyond. The UN reports that the area in northern Lebanon, where Nadia lives, is one of the country’s “most deprived regions.” Of the 1.1 million residents, roughly 65% are under the poverty line. The crisis in Syria greatly affected the region, as 300,000 refugees have settled there after fleeing war.
Engaging youth in community development activities is a major component of Anera’s projects for Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians.
Last year, 37,000+ youth took part in Anera’s sports, health, and education activities across Lebanon. Youth-led initiatives proved to be beneficial to both the communities they serve as well as the youth leading them. Equipping youth with life skills and values such as confidence, cooperation, and teamwork is a major component of community development activities.
“For one month, we placed boxes of in-kind donations of clothes and shoes in 30 local centers and schools in the village. We sorted, cleaned and repackaged what we received before distributing them to tented settlements for Syrian refugees and needy Lebanese families,” said Ziad, a participant in one of Anera’s youth led initiatives.
The family of eight escaped to Lebanon and settled in Minieh before moving to Bhannine, Lebanon. Three years later, Salma and a couple of her sisters did little else but stay at home.
“As Syrian refugees, we do not feel it’s safe to send our kids outside, and we worry even more about Salma given her vision impairment,” said her mother. “At the same time, we want our kids to learn skills to help them live a decent life.”
Soon Salma’s mother heard of vocational courses and signed Salma up for sewing classes, which included free-of-charge transportation.
“This is the first activity I’ve ever done in Lebanon,” said Salma. “I am very happy and all my classmates treat me respectfully.”