New Year brings new challenges for Syrians in Lebanon

The New Year brought new challenges for Syrian families living in northern Lebanon as Storm Vladimir drove heavy rain, winds and snow across the region wreaking havoc in the informal tented settlements where many refugees live.

Makeshift accommodation

Lebanon hosts the highest per capita ratio of refugees in the world, with over a million displaced Syrians currently living there – 25% of the total population of the country. Due to restrictions on formal refugee camps, about 41% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon have no alternative but to live in makeshift accommodation, often of a very poor quality.

Concern Worldwide CEO, Dominic MacSorley, recently visited Lebanon and described the situation:

The challenge here is almost invisible. There are no long queues of refugees, there are no big refugee camps. But there are 1.2 million Syrian refugees scattered among basements, under plastic sheeting, in half completed garages.

A photo taken at an informal refugee settlement in northern Lebanon after Storm Vladimir in January 2016. Photo: Concern Worldwide.
A photo taken at an informal refugee settlement in northern Lebanon after Storm Vladimir in January 2016. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

This photo was taken last week by Concern’s team, whilst completing an emergency risk assessment of refugee settlements in storm-affected areas. The coldness, misery and vulnerability of the accommodation is immediately apparent. Taking a closer look, you might also notice that while the children in the photo are wearing scarfs and hats, they aren’t wearing any socks. Many refugee families had to flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs, and consequently often lack the fundamentals they need in order to survive the harsh winter conditions.

Syrian refugee children receive winter clothes from Concern. Photo: Amanda Ruckel / Concern Worldwide.
Syrian refugee children receive winter clothes from Concern. Photo: Amanda Ruckel / Concern Worldwide.

Emergency support

Concern has been working to help Syrian refugee communities by distributing essentials like warm winter clothes. We’ve also distributed tarps in sites where tents have been damaged, and are working to improve drainage so that continuing rain won’t infiltrate living areas. This is part of our ongoing programme in Lebanon to help refugee families upgrade the quality of their living accommodation. Under this programme we provide building materials and technical support for renovations, the construction of latrines and the provision of water access. We also distribute stoves, blankets, fuel vouchers and repair kits so that families can stay warm over the winter.

Tragic consequences

The potentially dangerous consequences of sub-standard accommodation are sadly all too familiar to Tarek and Donia Hussein* – a young Syrian couple we met in northern Lebanon. Fleeing their home in Syria when a short ceasefire allowed residents of their village to escape the bombing, they initially found shelter in a communal space shared with eleven other families. Some weeks later, the couple and their extended family – Tarek’s parents, sister, brother, his wife and their eight children – managed to rent a disused cow-shed from a farmer where they could live together. But during that first winter, Tarek and Donia had to sleep in a tent outside the barn. Horrifically, they lost their new-born son, Mohammed, to the extreme cold when he was only a day old.

Tarek and Donia sit with their two-month old daughter on a mattress in the family’s apartment in a refugee settlement in northern Lebanon. Photo: Dalia Khamissy / Concern Worldwide.
Tarek and Donia sit with their two-month old daughter on a mattress in the family’s apartment in a refugee settlement in northern Lebanon. Photo: Dalia Khamissy / Concern Worldwide.

Changing lives

Concern has subsequently helped Tarek’s family turn the barn from a cold, draughty shelter into somewhere the family can call home. We built a separate room for Tarek and Donia, replastered the leaking walls, and fixed a bathroom for the whole family to share. We’ve also supplied the family with mattresses, blankets and a wood burning stove which is providing not only heat but also a means to cook hot food for everyone. And wonderfully, a short while ago, Donia gave birth to another child: a healthy baby girl called Sarah.

Tarek expressed his deep thanks to everyone who has donated to Concern to make this work possible:

Please thank everyone in Ireland for being so human and sensitive.

Building materials provided by Concern Worldwide help Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon to prepare their shelters for winter. Photo: Dalia Khamissy / Concern Worldwide.
Building materials provided by Concern Worldwide help Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon to prepare their shelters for winter. Photo: Dalia Khamissy / Concern Worldwide.

Education and sanitation

Concern has been working with Syrian families in Lebanon since 2013. In addition to our emergency shelter and winterisation programmes, we also provide basic classes to Syrian children to ensure they get an education and to prevent thousands of children becoming a ‘lost generation’ after five long years of conflict and no access to schools.

Additionally, our water, sanitation and hygiene programme has provided daily clean drinking water for nearly 50,000 households. We’ve been able to repair eight water systems, to ensure safe, clean water for families to drink and wash in without risk of illness. That includes both Syrian families, and the local Lebanese communities hosting them – many of whom are living well below the poverty line themselves.

You can help

No-one knows how long the war in Syria will go on. And there’s no doubt that, without exception, every Syrian in Lebanon wants to go home. Until the day that’s possible, however, we need to make life more bearable in the informal settlements of Lebanon – and bring hope for the future, for as long as it takes.

Families like Tarek’s urgently need help to survive the harsh conditions in Lebanon. A donation from you could save lives this winter. Please give what you can.

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