The fate of Syrian refugees in Lebanon 10 years after the uprising | Arab Spring: 10 years in the news
Beirut, Lebanon – Abdul Rehman, a 21-year-old Syrian worker and father of two, works painstakingly every day to restore a heritage building destroyed on August 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut.
He cleans up the debris, loads the raw material on his back and carries it up several floors. He scratches paint from damaged walls and delicately dust those painted with murals.
Rehman works a 10-hour shift and earns barely $ 5 a day, far too little than he needs to raise his family, especially at a time when commodity prices have skyrocketed in the country.
“I can hardly ever buy meat for my children again,” he says. “Before the economic crisis, I could buy it once a week.”
Rehman is one of hundreds of Syrian workers rebuilding Beirut after 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the port of Beirut and fatally damaged many nearby neighborhoods.
Yet, he said, he is invisible to the Lebanese who never hire him, except when he is forced to do the heavy lifting on a construction site for a pittance.
Ten years ago this month, Syria sparked protests and soon a civil war so deadly that millions of people ran for their lives and became refugees.
Lebanon was the first and last port of call for many. It has hosted the largest per capita Syrian refugee population in the world and has sheltered 1.7 million Syrian refugees.
Rehman was one of the many children who escaped the Syrian war in 2012. He had to drop out of school and grew up in a refugee camp near Beirut.
He said that even if he had gone to university, he would still be employed as a manual laborer in Lebanon, which allows Syrians to be legally employed in only three sectors, including construction.
Syrian refugees like Rehman have faced systematic discrimination in Lebanon all these years and are struggling to make ends meet. But with the collapse of the Lebanese economy last year, Syrian refugees, already the country’s most vulnerable, have been hit the hardest.
“I don’t think I’m giving my daughter enough to eat,” Rehman said, sounding agitated, fighting back tears. “I also cannot afford to buy diapers for my daughter. They are so expensive.
Eighty-nine percent of Syrian refugees lived below the poverty line last year, up from 55 percent in 2019, according to a report released in December by United Nations agencies.
Ninety-three percent took on debt to buy food and a large number resorted to skipping a meal. Many married girls under the age of 18, took their children out of school, and sent them to work or even beg on the streets.
“The percentage of children aged 5 to 17 who are engaged in child labor has almost doubled from 2.6% in 2019 to 4.4% in 2020,” said Lisa Abou Khalid, spokesperson UNHCR, to Al Jazeera.
“Last year there was a sharp increase in the number of calls made by refugees to our national call centers, where refugees told my colleagues that they no longer knew how to manage, how to survive.” , Khalid added.
“Something that was said over and over again was, ‘I’m thinking about killing myself, what’s the point of going on living if it’s such a struggle just to survive every day?’” Khaled recounted what some of the distressed callers said.
Other activists say that although the refugees suffer incomparably more than at any time in their 10-year exile so far, the global community’s interest in the welfare of the refugees has waned.
Fadi Hallisso, co-founder of an NGO called Basmeh and Zeitooneh that works for Syrian refugees, said they face much more uncertainty in Lebanon than ever before.
“I really like Lebanon, but the problem is that no one sees the contribution of the Syrian workers even after everything they did to rebuild the city after the explosion,” Hallisso said. “It’s the same answer as after the Lebanese civil war.
“Then the Syrian workers did all the construction work to rebuild the city, but they were not appreciated by the Lebanese. Instead, the Lebanese viewed them with suspicion due to the Syrian regime’s presence on the ground.
The impression of the Syrians in the minds of the Lebanese has been marred by the interference of the Syrian government in the affairs of Lebanon on several occasions since the civil war in Lebanon.
Some are simply racist against the poorer, more conservative neighbor, while others have bought into politicians’ claims that Syrians are stealing their jobs.
Hallisso said that not only are Syrians not recognized for their contribution to the Lebanese economy who spend everything they earn here, but on the contrary, discrimination against them has increased due to the economic crisis.
“Yesterday, in one of the supermarkets, people were asked to show Lebanese identity cards to buy subsidized rice to make sure the Syrians do not take advantage of the subsidies,” Hallisso added.
“For two weeks in some areas of Beirut, supermarkets have not allowed Syrians to buy subsidized food products.”
‘I can’t do what the Syrians are doing’
Paul Kousafi, a Lebanese national and chief carpenter of the same heritage building where Rehman works, said he employed Syrians to carve doors and windows because they charge half of what the Lebanese would do.
He said Syrians were essential to the Lebanese economy but as the crisis worsened, tensions between Lebanese and Syrian refugees escalated.
“The Lebanese cannot do what the Syrians do and yet many mistreat the refugees. I don’t like it, ”Kousafi said. “The economic pressure on the Lebanese makes their attitudes towards refugees even more hostile.”
Rehman and his compatriots are caught between a rock and a hard place. His house in Deir Az Zor in Syria is still destroyed and the economic situation in Syria is worse than that of Lebanon.
Ten years after the start of the conflict, he still cannot return to Syria for security reasons and is finding it increasingly difficult to make a decent living in Lebanon.
The country that gave him refuge is home for all intents and purposes and although it is necessary here, he does not feel accepted.