Syrian Refugees in LebanonSince the outbreak of war in 2011, millions of Syrians have been forced to flee their homes, creating one of the largest humanitarian crises in recent history. Natalie, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon and shared her challenges in an interview with The Borgen Project. She mentioned the support received from organizations like the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the current circumstances of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The Impact of the Crisis

The Syrian refugee crisis was born out of the devastating war that ravaged the country. Lebanon, as a neighboring country, became a significant host country for Syrian refugees, including Natalie, as they sought safety and stability away from the conflict.

Natalie’s story provides a glimpse into the human side of the crisis, highlighting the strength and determination of Syrian refugees.

Arrival in Lebanon

Natalie embarked on a challenging journey that brought her to Lebanon, where she encountered various challenges. The devastating war inflicted widespread destruction, resulting in the displacement of families, the disruption of lives and a strain on resources. Like countless others, Natalie had to start anew, rebuilding her life from the ground up.

During the interview, Natalie shed light on the invaluable support she and her family received from the UNHCR. She expressed deep gratitude for the neighboring country, highlighting Lebanon’s generosity in opening its borders to all Syrian refugees.

Before Natalie sought refuge in Lebanon, she lived in Homs, a city bordering the northern town of Tripoli in Lebanon. This proximity enabled her to manage her escape somewhat more easily when the civil war escalated. She made the decision to leave Syria on June 29, 2012.

Undoubtedly, leaving behind friends and family in Syria was a difficult experience for Natalie. However, she found solace in the fact that Lebanon shares a border with her hometown, allowing certain family members to visit occasionally. Unfortunately, her friends have dispersed across various parts of the world in search of refuge, resulting in limited opportunities for them to reunite.

UNHCR’s Support

Amid the crisis, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) played a vital role in coordinating the protection response for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. UNHCR provided assistance in various forms, including health care, shelter, education and addressing gender-based violence.

Upon their arrival in Lebanon, the UNHCR provided Natalie and her family with essential provisions. Before leaving Syria, her family had fallen into a state of extreme poverty, with nothing left but her mother’s gold jewelry, which proved inadequate for their survival.

Natalie expresses her gratitude for her fortunate circumstances. Her uncle, who worked as a professor at Kuwait University, sent them financial assistance to cover rent, food and basic necessities.

Natalie regarded herself as comparatively more fortunate than many other Syrian refugees due to her Lebanese heritage from her mother’s side. This meant she had a place to stay and her uncle continued to support her family until they regained stability. Furthermore, her father, a successful dentist in Syria, successfully secured a position at a dental clinic in Lebanon. It took the family approximately five months to regain their financial footing.

Notably, Natalie’s resilience and determination led her to accomplish remarkable achievements. She pursued and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology from the Lebanese International University.

The Current Reality

Unfortunately, the situation for Syrian refugees in Lebanon has become increasingly difficult. Reports indicate rising incidents of deportation and harassment, casting a shadow of fear and insecurity over the Syrian community residing in Lebanon.

Natalie explained that while the ongoing economic crisis in Lebanon has significantly exacerbated the challenges faced by Syrian refugees, her family did not experience an exceptional amount of suffering. Her family encountered similar experiences to those of a typical Lebanese household. They lost their savings and, like many others, are now facing financial constraints due to hyperinflation.

The latest figures provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlight that Lebanon currently grapples with a complex and challenging situation concerning Syrian refugees. The country faces an overwhelming number of people in need of humanitarian assistance, with a staggering 3.9 million individuals requiring support. Among these, 2.1 million are Lebanese citizens, 1.5 million are Syrian refugees, 211,000 are Palestinian refugees and 81,000 are migrants.

The Economic Impact

The influx of Syrian refugees has strained Lebanon’s already limited resources and infrastructure, worsening existing socioeconomic issues. It has created an increased demand for public services such as health care, education and housing. Consequently, both the Lebanese population and Syrian refugees have experienced rising poverty rates, contributing to the challenging circumstances faced by these communities.

The economic repercussions of hosting a substantial refugee population have also affected employment opportunities, leading to higher unemployment rates for both the local population and refugees. Job scarcity has resulted in wage depression and exploitation in some instances, further compounding the difficulties experienced by both communities.

The strain on resources and the socio-economic situation have heightened tensions between host communities and the refugee population, posing challenges to social cohesion and integration.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the European Union (EU) has stepped forward to provide substantial funding for Lebanon’s support. In 2023 alone, the EU allocated €60 million in humanitarian aid. Since 2011, the EU has contributed a total of €2.7 billion, with nearly €860 million specifically designated for humanitarian aid. The primary objective of this generous support is to alleviate the burden on Lebanon and ensure the provision of essential services and assistance to both the local population and refugee communities.

Looking Ahead

Natalie’s story provides a glimpse into the lives of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, accentuating their struggles and resilience in the face of adversity. As the Syrian refugee crisis persists, sharing such stories can potentially nurture empathy and understanding, fostering greater support and compassion for those impacted by the crisis. Addressing the needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon remains an urgent concern, demanding continuous attention and collaboration from both national and international stakeholders.

– Tanya Hamad
Photo: Flickr