Alan Thomlinson, CAFOD’s Emergency Programme Manager for the Syria Crisis, writes:
Near the city of Tripoli in the north of Lebanon I went to visit a Syrian refugee family whose plight illustrated many of the challenges facing those who have fled from the war.
In a tiny room at the back of a carpenter’s shed, three generations of the family were sharing a simple lunch. Grandparents, mother, father, daughter and son were all crammed into the workshop, finishing off their meal. The food didn’t look like it would cover six people, but it was all they could afford.
The family were happy to talk to me, but didn’t want to be identified for fear of what might happen to their friends and family back home if they were seen to be commenting on the crisis.
The room they were sheltering in was tiny, with the mattresses piled up against the walls while the family wasn’t sleeping. It was such a small space that it was difficult to understand how they all fitted in. When I asked how they managed it they said they didn’t have a choice.
I worry for my children
The mother said: “I worry for my children. My young son is struggling at school here. He is now having to start again as all lessons are in English, which he never studied in Syria. My daughter has just finished her degree, but what chance does she now have of finding work?
“We are the lucky ones. At least we have a room and my husband has some work. Those people living in tents and outside are suffering more.”
Our partner Caritas Lebanon said this family offered an insight into the multiple challenges being faced by the region as a whole. The lack of adequate shelter has meant that many have suffered in the cold temperatures over winter.
The son’s challenges with school highlight the difficulties faced even by the lucky children who are able to access education. Many schools are now running two school days – one in the morning for Lebanese children and one in the afternoon for Syrians. But Lebanese schools work to a different curriculum, in a different language, and many Syrian children are struggling to cope with the changes.
The cost of going to school – even the cost of paying for the bus – is also prohibitive to many families, who have to choose between demands on their limited savings or income.
Access to healthcare is also becoming a major issue for all refugees. The grandfather complained that he was not able to access his normal medicines, as the family have now used up all their savings. The cold and damp conditions are adding to his health concerns. The cost of healthcare isn’t the only challenge – many people can’t afford the cost of getting to hospital.
The family were extremely grateful for the job that the father had been able to find in the carpenter’s workshop. The sheer number of refugees in Lebanon has meant that the labour market has been flooded with people looking for work. This has meant a drop in salaries for everyone, including the Lebanese, and has made the competition for what work there is even more severe.
To address these multiple challenges, our partners across the region have been working to provide much-needed food supplies, shelter materials and warm clothing to help families keep out the cold, support with the costs of accessing healthcare services, and cash grants to help families cover the costs of their daily lives, including rent payments.
However, as we approach the third anniversary of the beginning of the conflict, the sheer scale of this crisis means that much more work needs to be done.