Debts, difficulties mount for Syrian refugees in Lebanon

While fighting rages in Syria, humanitarian conditions continue deteriorating, and displaced families like Mahmoud and his wife and children are finding it increasingly difficult to cope.

Stories and photos by Patricia Mouamar, World Vision Lebanon
Published May 10, 2013 at 12:00am PDT

Mahmoud speaks quietly as he lists the amount of money his family owes: $200 for the plastic sheet; $50 for the wood to build the frame; $100 for the mattresses; and still more for the basic plates, pots, and pans they use to cook with, as well as the wood for the stove, their only source of heat.

In total, they owe close to $500. On top of that, they need to pay the farmer on whose land their tent is pitched — $800 for its use over the next 12 months.

Mahmoud fled Syria with his wife, Fatima, and two young children a month ago. They left with nothing. It was too risky to even carry a suitcase, because they feared being turned back at a checkpoint by army soldiers if it was suspected they were attempting to flee.

Struggling to survive

Upon arrival in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, someone told them about a field where they could pitch a tent for a fee. When they explained they had no money, the farmer who owns the field said they could pay him back later. There are currently more than 20 refugees living there.

There is no toilet, no shower block, and mud everywhere. But even this basic parcel of land can mean a lifeline for the desperate — and some cold, hard cash for the farmer.

Their other lifeline has been the food vouchers they have received from World Vision, the only support they’ve gotten since leaving Syria.

Mahmoud and his brothers have tried to find day labor at the surrounding farms but have had no luck. When asked how they intend to pay their debts, Mahmoud looks confused for a second. He hasn’t thought that far ahead.

“I honestly don’t know yet,” he says. “I needed to get a roof over my children’s heads and a place for us to sleep. That was my only priority. I suppose I hope I will find work, but now I don’t know.

“I do know, though, that it’s a loan,” he adds, “and with any loan, there is always a timeline before you have to pay.”

Left in crisis

Mahmoud is typical of many refugees. In Syria, he had a good job as a manager of a factory. He and his wife were like many young, middle-class families. After saving for two years, they had just built their dream home.

“We were so proud of it,” says Mahmoud sadly. “We put everything we had into it. It had two balconies and a garage. Now, it’s all gone — bombed.”

They never imagined they would be refugees. One day, they were going to work; the next, they were borrowing money for a plastic sheet under which to live.

The sudden and unexpected change of circumstance has left them shell-shocked and struggling to adapt.

World Vision’s response — and how you can help

As conflict in Syria enters its third year, several million people are internally displaced, and thousands per day are fleeing to neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Refugees like Mahmoud and his family have taken up residence in abandoned buildings, sheds, spare rooms, garages, and temporary shelters. Conditions are often crowded and unsanitary. Even so, families struggle to pay rent. Displaced children face emotional trauma, hunger, poor health, lack of access to education, and risk of exploitation.

World Vision is responding to the needs of refugees in Lebanon with food vouchers, hygiene kits, blankets, cooking stoves, fuel, and Child-Friendly Spaces, which provide a safe place for children to play, learn, and talk about the trauma they’ve faced.

Read more about the Syrian refugee crisis on the World Vision Blog.

Please pray for families like Mahmoud and his wife and children. Many others like them have lost everything and face great suffering because of the ongoing violence in Syria.

Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide assistance for Syrian refugees. The need is great, and additional funding is desperately needed to continue our response.

Or, give monthly to provide support to children affected by conflict. Your monthly contribution will help us reach even more children who face unimaginable circumstances because of war and violence.