Is there Hope? Part 2 - Refugees Seek Work in Lebanon

As the second in a three-part series exploring the ongoing crisis gripping the lives of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Middle East, this story focuses on Lebanon. First we explored the unique challenges of the Holy Land, and the third installation will examine Turkey’s attempts to provide hospitality to the refugees. The series studies the ties that bind those countries struggling for solutions.

Lebanon Closes its Borders to Refugees

Lebanon has become a land of grim refugees. Traumatized witnesses to subhuman brutality, which many of them somehow survived, are now a quarter of that small country’s population: As of June 10, 2015, there were 1,174,690 registered displaced Syrian souls struggling there to keep the will to live.

Bordered on the north and east by Syria, Lebanon was an obvious escape channel for the tsunami of terrified émigrés, many looking to join families long relocated for purposes of work. Further, its parliamentary democracy incorporates confessionalism, a system that seeks to deter sectarian conflict with fair representation in government of the country’s 18 recognized religious groups. Lebanon also strives to guarantee civil rights and freedom to its citizens and was ranked first in the Middle East and 26th worldwide in The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2011. 

So it was that panicked, fleeing refugees had every reason to believe that Lebanon would receive them.  And it did - until it couldn’t.

By late 2014 even a national character of compassion and charity could not support the crushing demand for social services and an overburdened infrastructure. And although Lebanon’s policy was to never turn away fleeing Syrian families, the overwhelmed country now has a visa-like requirement in place at its borders with Syria, though worst-scenario cases receive special dispensation.

Lebanon's Economic Challenges Increase

The economic impact of the refugees’ migration is complexly layered: The work is generally agricultural and in struggling regions that were first - and still are - populated by the poorest Lebanese.

Competition for such jobs already existed between the host community and Syrians who came years ago. Now, families who made room for recently displaced kin have additional competition for even the most meager jobs. The host population plus pre-crisis immigrants plus the current refugee influx has created an ever-increasing hostile, tense triangulation of economic strangulation.

Some municipalities now forbid Syrians to work, child labor is increasing, and because displaced Syrians will work for nearly nothing, in some sectors they are pushing Lebanese out of the work force.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees are living in half rooms of broken, failing buildings and in makeshift tent towns that emerged when no family was available to harbor them.

Into these hidden and hurting communities GHNI has brought succor with donations of washing machines, sewing machines, threads and mattresses. And by mobilizing Transformational Community Development (TCD), the inhabitants can learn to sustain themselves with micro-businesses. In one community, after training, two families opened shops in their tent.

However, at greatest risk for worst outcomes are the women who, pre-crisis, ran their households, cared for their families and never worked outside the home. Now many - with husbands, fathers, brothers and sons gone to grave-holes every one - desperately need employment. Yet, they have no employable skills and so compete for scarce jobs requiring only low-skill capabilities and with no social protection or job security. Most work in crop and animal production or as domestic help.

In early 2015, A Syrian woman shared her heartache with Joseph, a GHNI representative in Lebanon, as he distributed tents, carpets and mattresses and accompanied a GHNI physicians’ team to treat a scabies outbreak in one of the hundreds of refugee enclaves in Bekaa Valley.

“We become prey to every man … no security … protection … justice … hope. We left death in Syria, only to find it waiting for us here. Families are separated, our husbands missing or killed. We've run out of money, driven to survive through sex to feed our children. We push our daughters into early marriage, hoping for their protection. Our children often get sexually and physically abused and exploited with no access to education. We have no regular community and family support systems. We feel shameful and humiliated.”

Lebanon’s economic growth rate has plummeted since the Syrian refugee surge, from 8% in 2010 to 1.5% in 2014. With the closure of Syrian borders, the country lost its only trade export route; tourism and hospitality industries are at a near standstill due to international travel warnings or restrictions; goods and services are severely impacted due to trade route closure; the real estate market has markedly decelerated, driving up rents; inflation has increased; decreased economic activity; and the government is staggering under soaring infrastructure needs.

And that is the short list.

Bringing Hope to Lebanon

​GHNI, though, brings light to these lightless lives - blankets that bring warmth on frigid nights under canvas, life-changing movement with a wheelchair for 12-year-old Mariam*, a furnished flat and a new family for half-paralyzed Rabeka*. “I was at sea, crying out from my heart just for shelter,” she says. It was her last homeless night, as Joseph brought her a key, not only to the flat and to the hearts of a family, but to a future.

Refugee relief is made possible by generous people eager to reignite hope in the desolate hearts of the hurting that somehow a good life can be resurrected. Will you help bring joy to the joyless this July by helping to bring relief to refugee families in Lebanon?

Read the rest of this series -
Is there Hope? Part 1: Violence in the Holy Land
Is there Hope? Part 3: Turkish Hospitality for Refugees

*For purposes of security and well-being, “Miriam” and "Rabeka” are pseudonyms of the people being helped by this project.