Refugees and Caregivers
Two Palestinian refugees from Syria check their family names against a distribution list in Shatila Camp in order to determine when to pick up their relief-supply packages. Credit: ANERA
This story was reported and written by UMCOR partner ANERA, American Near East Refugee Aid. ANERA recently distributed a shipment of UMCOR relief kits to refugees in Lebanon who have fled the violence in Syria. More than 50,000 Palestinians from Syria have taken refuge in Lebanon since the spring of 2011. Every day they are confronted by new emotional and physical struggles as poor conditions and higher living costs make it hard to meet their basic needs.
March 24, 2014—Hiba’s eyes shine from fond memories as she describes her former life in Yarmouk Camp, outside the Syrian capital, Damascus. “We had our own house in Yarmouk. It was spacious,” she says. “There were six rooms and we had bought modern furniture.” She remembers Yarmouk as a nice place to live, with stores and wide, paved roads. “It’s organized and there is electricity 24/7, clean running water, and free health care.”
Hiba is Syrian, but she settled in Yarmouk, a refugee camp that is home to the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria, when she married her Palestinian husband, Jamal. When fighting reached their neighborhood in June 2012, Hiba, Jamal, and their six children fled across the border into Lebanon and rented a room in the overcrowded, impoverished Shatila Camp, south of Beirut.
Their life changed dramatically. “The eight of us now live in one small room. It’s humid and dark. There is not a single window. The toilet is inside the room. When someone needs to use it, we must all go out. And it’s expensive: the monthly rent is $200!” Hiba says.
The higher cost of living in Lebanon has been a shock to most refugees from Syria, where a family of five could live on $100 a month. The price for basic necessities such as bottled water or bread is about six times higher in Lebanon.
|Relief items, including UMCOR’s in-kind donation, are transported to Palestinian camps in Lebanon for distribution to refugees from Syria. Credit: ANERA
Timely assistance for refugees like Hiba becomes a matter of survival. ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid) has been able to help 1,550 families in Shatila and Burj El Barajneh camps meet their basic needs, thanks to the generosity of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Lutheran World Relief (LWR). The in-kind shipments, inclucing 980 layette kits, 7,056 school kits, and 14,112 health kits from UMCOR and 375 bales of quilts from LWR, help the camps meet their basic needs. And, every family with a child under the age of one year that registered with ANERA received a layette kit donated by UMCOR.
Syrian refugee Nawal received a layette kit for her four-month old daughter, Aya. “It had baby clothes, linens, and diapers of good quality for Aya,” Nawal says. Her family’s situation is desperate. “We can barely provide the minimum for our children, so the baby kit really helped relieve our economic burden for a while.”
Women and Children on Crisis Frontline
|Four-month-old Aya was born in Burj El Barajneh Camp in Lebanon. Credit: ANERA
Women and children account for two thirds of the Palestinian refugees from Syria now taking shelter in Lebanon. Women find themselves bearing a double burden, as both refugee and family caretaker. “A mother always thinks of her children first. What is important for me is to protect them,” says Hiba. She appreciated the hygiene products that were distributed. “The camp is very dirty and humid, so the hygiene kits are very important for keeping clean.”
For Hiba and other refugee mothers, the major challenge is helping her children cope with new and difficult living conditions. “My 13-year-old son worked in a cafe for the whole month of Ramadan. He would go straight after school and stay there until midnight every day. He worked all these hours so he could buy a pair of new pants for the Eid El Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, ” she says.
Hiba’s voice starts to tremble and tears fill her eyes. She says her son failed his final exams. Because he had spent so much time at his job, he’d had little time left to study.
Hiba also worries about her daughter. The five-year-old often comes to her sobbing that she wants to go home. She cries often as she remembers some traumatic moments of the war. “She remembers children’s bodies being pulled away from the rubble,” Hiba says.
In January of 2013, Hiba’s family tried to return to Syria. “Life is so difficult here. We wanted to see our house, and check whether it was possible to settle back there.” Unfortunately, she discovered that half the house had been reduced to rubble and the neighborhood was unsafe.
Fearing for her children’s security, Hiba returned to Shatila. As the war drags on, refugees like Hiba realize their stay in Lebanon will be longer, as will their reliance on humanitarian aid. “ANERA was able to meet some of our many needs. We’re very worried for our family’s future, but ANERA’s assistance helps us to keep going,” she says.
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