In Lebanon, Syrian refugees call for dignity and work

A refugee family stand outside their temporary home in an informal settlement, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
A refugee family, who do not wish to be named, stand with Oxfam staff outside their temporary home in an informal settlement, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

In almost five years Syria has become the epicenter of a massive humanitarian catastrophe, causing 4.6 million people to flee the country for their lives and 6.8 million more to be displaced internally.

Lebanon, a small country of just 4 million people, is welcoming over 1 million Syrian refugees but is struggling to cope in the face of inflation, pressure on public services and the wider economic effects of the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Hassan's story:

Hassan*, 34, fled his hometown of Deir Ezzor in Syria in April 2014. With his wife Rana*, 23, and their two children he has settled down in one of Lebanon’s many informal settlements. But for the last seven months the family of refugees have been unable to regularize their legal status in the country which introduced stricter regulations in January 2015 requiring all Syrians to pay 200 USD for an annual residency permits per person, and sign a pledge not to work, or to find a Lebanese sponsor.

Hassan can’t afford the permits and fears he will be arrested and deported.

"Life is not easy. I can’t get out of this settlement to look for a job and feed my family. I am stuck here," says Hassan.

"I worry every minute that I will be arrested and deported. My children are very young and need special care. I have to work to buy milk, food, and fuel," he adds sitting in his very modest yet clean and well organized tent.

With little humanitarian aid available, Hassan says he now faces a growing list of debts.

"I don’t work because I don’t have a residency permit. I owe more than 1,000 USD. How will I manage to pay this money back?" says Hassan, while his two children, Mohammad, 5, and Rana, 2, play in the muddy camp. 

Other refugees who live in the same settlement in the Bekaa valley made the difficult decision to find a sponsor, to be able to work, but at a high cost. "My neighbours who found sponsors were abused, blackmailed, and exploited. I want to work with dignity. I am ready to do anything, but I refuse exploitation. My only hope is to get out of Lebanon, to get somewhere where I can educate my children and prepare them for a better future," Hassan said.

Oxfam's work in Lebanon

Oxfam has been providing adequate access to water and sanitation to Syrian refugees in the Bekaa valley, in Lebanon, raising awareness of their rights as refugees, the importance of registration and helping them access much needed health and legal services.

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We are calling for urgent and immediate action by the international community to deal with this deepening crisis and help alleviate the suffering. This should involve fully funding the aid response, offering a safe haven to refugees including through resettlement of a fair share of the refugee population, halting the transfer of arms and ammunition, and reviving concerted efforts towards a resolution of the crisis, however difficult it may be.

*Names changed for protection reasons.