Syrian refugees in Lebanon pushed deeper into poverty: report

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut


A picture taken on January 10th shows Ryad Khalaf Zibou, a 43-year-old Syrian refugee, receiving medical attention at a hospital in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, after he set himself on fire outside the UNHCR office. [Ibrahim Chalhoub/AFP]

A Syrian refugee in Lebanon set himself on fire Wednesday (January 9th) outside a UN office in desperation at aid getting cut off to his family, suffering serious burns.

Refugee agency UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) told AFP that the man -- named by family as 43-year-old father of four Ryad Khalaf Zibou -- "set himself alight" at a UN compound in the northern city of Tripoli.

"UN staff attended to the incident, provided first aid support and rushed him to the hospital where he is in a serious but stable condition," the agencies said in a joint statement.

"This tragic incident underscores the pressures and difficulties facing many refugees, who are becoming increasingly vulnerable and who -- in rare cases -- resort to such desperate acts," the statement said.


A Syrian refugee girl at a public school in Lebanon eats her daily share of fresh fruit provided by the World Food Programme as an incentive for parents to send their children to school. [Photo courtesy of the WFP]


A Syrian refugee purchases groceries at a Lebanon supermarket. The World Food Programme supports refugee families in Lebanon by providing them with monthly cash assistance. [Photo courtesy of the WFP]

According to a December 15th report by the UNHCR, WFP and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Syrian refugees are becoming more vulnerable than ever, with more than half living in abject poverty and more than three-quarters below the poverty line.

The annual survey, which encompassed 5,000 randomly selected refugee families from 26 districts across Lebanon, found that Syria refugees do not have sufficient funds to meet their basic needs.

It found that 58% of Syrian households are living in extreme poverty -- on less than $2.87 per person per day, with an increase of 5% compared with 2016.

The number of families living below the poverty line -- less than $3.84 per person per day -- continued to rise, reaching 76% in 2017, the report said.

It also found that nine out of 10 Syrian refugees borrow money to buy food, cover health expenses and pay rent.

"Syrian refugees in Lebanon are barely keeping afloat," said Mireille Girard, UNHCR Representative in Lebanon. "Most families are extremely vulnerable and dependent on aid from the international community."

Without continued support, their situation would be even more harrowing, she said.

"Continued donor support in 2018 is the only way to ensure that there is no further deterioration of the refugee situation," said Dominique Heinrich, WFP country director for Lebanon.

'I can no longer meet the basic needs of my family'

"Since we were displaced to Lebanon six years ago, we have not experienced such hardship as we do today," Ahmad Mohammed al-Qassim, a native of Aleppo, told Al-Mashareq.

"In the past, what I earned from working in farming in the Bekaa Valley and the monthly aid we received from the UNHCR used to be enough to help me support my family that consists of my wife and my three children, until the end of the month," he said.

"Our situation in 2017 has deteriorated to the point where I can say that I am poor," he said.

The drop in wages and decrease in aid provided by the UNHCR, coupled with an increase in the cost of living, have had its toll on al-Qassim's financial situation.

"I am no longer able to meet my family's most basic needs such as food and clothing, and I have to borrow money from some of my compatriots," he added.

Decline in support to humanitarian organisations

The rise in the poverty rate among Syrian refugees can be attributed to several factors, UNHCR assistant public information officer Lisa Abu Khaled told Al-Mashareq.

These include "their presence in Lebanon for more than six years and the fact that UNHCR is receiving only 58% of the funding allocated to help them".

"We are seeing their situation deteriorate every year," she said, noting that the cash assistance to the poorest families, who total 33,000 families, is $175 a month.

The report has shown that "humanitarian assistance, particularly the cash for food [programme], is a safety net for a large number of families, as an estimated 700,000 refugees benefit from the aid provided by the WFP".

"Our constant objective is to reach as many people as possible with monthly cash assistance of $175 per family and winter cash assistance of $75 per person for the neediest families over five months of winter," Abu Khaled said.

"If they do not receive this assistance, they would be very vulnerable because their needs are increasing," she said, noting that the refugees' accommodations are below standards, putting them at a high risk of contracting diseases.

Refugees are not receiving sufficient support due to the decline in funding provided to humanitarian organisations, she said.

"In view of this, we are currently reviewing the refugees’ files to monitor changes in their situation and make sure that we reach the poorest and most needy," said Abu Khaled.

"We, the Lebanese government and partner organisations are preparing to launch an appeal to the international community to ask for $1.9 billion to respond to the needs of the Syrian refugees and their Lebanese host communities," she said.

Food aid for parents and children

WFP is providing food aid to 700,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon, WFP media and communications officer Edward Johnson told Al-Mashareq.

"Each person receives monthly cash assistance of $27 for food," he said, which is loaded on an electronic card that allows them either to buy the food they need from 500 shops contracted by the organisation, or withdraw the money from ATMs.

"Thus, a family of five people receives $135 per month," he said.

WFP also provides light meals to about 7,500 Syrian refugee children who attend public schools in both the morning and afternoon sessions, Johnson said.

"Every day we provide a bag containing a carton of milk and fresh fruit to encourage parents to enroll their children in school," he said.

WPF also has launched 111 projects that benefit about 2,700 refugees by providing them with training in certain specialties, such as food processing for resale in markets, he said.

"We designed projects to hone their skills and help them gain experience to make money, become self-sufficient and stop the deterioration of their situation," he said.

Do you like this article?

22 Comment(s)

Comment Policy * Denotes Required Field 1500 / 1500

Peace be upon you! I’m a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. I’m married and have 4 children. I can’t work. I’ve been dismissed from the UN assistance. Please help me with food or with immigration to Norway. Thanks a lot. Please help.


The World Food Programme isn't fair. There are people who receive assistance although they don't need it, and there are other people who can't afford bread and yet receive nothing.


My children and I eat from the garbage.


I’m a Syrian from Aleppo. I went to Lebanon in 2014. I overstayed my visa, and then renewed it. I’ve found a sponsor, and then went to the General Security to find a Lebanese sponsor so I can work. They told me I should pay a fine for overstaying my visa. I told them I’ve already paid it, but they didn’t accept it. I overstayed my visa three years ago.


The UN has arbitrarily refused without studying the situations of refugees. There are people who are receiving food and winter assistance, as well as 260, while others have been rejected. We’re among those rejected. My father has been sick, and most of our objects are tied to debts. We haven’t paid the rent for two months, and they wouldn’t show us any mercy. Hope the UN will examine the situation of displaced people and check their homes to see how they’re doing. This is just unjust to deny some and give others.


God will help us! What can we do?


I want to file an immigration petition to the Canadian Embassy.


Hello. Where can I find the Refugee Commission in Lebanon? How can I register there? What are the required documents?


I’m a refugee in Lebanon. I’m registered with the Commission. I want to go to Canada or seek asylum there.


I’ve been registered with the UN for five years. I’m married and have two children. My situation is very bad. I need financial assistance. I’m facing a tough condition. They want to remove me from the house if I don’t pay the rent. I’m sick and don’t have a stable job.


To complain to anyone other than God is sort of humiliation. I work for 18 hours a day and I can’t keep up. I’ve been registered with the Commission since 2011 and I haven’t seen anything from them. I just hear that some people, not all, take assistance.


We haven’t seen anything from them in two years. They gave us the card, but it’s empty. Each time we call them, they say I’m not entitled to any assistance. God suffices me!


I’m a Syrian refugee. My health condition is not stable. I’m married and have a little girl. I suffer from a stroke. I’m registered with the UN. My financial situation is tough, and I’m sick. I don’t have anyone to support me, and I can’t even afford my rent. They’ve dismissed me from the food programme. I want to feed my child. I’m sick.


I'm registered with the Commission, but I'm not receiving any money from it.


Now that they have knowledge of all the tough conditions we're facing, why have they deprived me of everything? I'm not receiving anything from them. They're just good at hiring Lebanese employees and renting offices and land and giving out salaries. By God Almighty, [gibberish]. Just come and see how we're doing; we haven't worked for three months. We've sold everything we own, and we have nothing left except for our own human organs. This is unjust; we're dying a thousand times a day. When you complaint at the Commission about lack of assistance, you have to pay dollars to contact them. All that you get is the answer machine [gibberish] in dollars. What should I do [gibberish]? Let it stay at the heart.


I'm Abdul Razzaq Jumaa al-Abboud. I've been dismissed from food assistance. I have a debt of three million and I can't even afford a pack of medicines for my son. I've been registered with the Commission for 6 years. There is no power or might save in God.


My name is Alaa Yahya al-Saleh. I’ve been denied the food assistance. I have two children. We live in the Western Beqaa where it’s extremist cold.


I'm a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. I live in the Central Beqaa. My father is sick. He needs a heart surgery, but I can't afford the cost of the surgery. Each time I go to the Commission and hospital, they refuse to do the surgery. I ask you to help us travel. Please respond to my comment here: I need to travel with my family and my brothers who are all young. I want them to study and live in dignity. In Lebanon, we have no dignity. This is my phone number 0096171720970. Please respond.


The report is one hundred percent correct. The situation is very bad for most refugees because of high prices and lack of work to earn a living for the family. Thanks for shedding light on the sufferings of refugees. We hope you can help us as much as you can, especially at this winter time.


Nice words, but there are women who live alone without anyone to help them. When they contact the UN, they tell them that they are not entitled to receive assistance. We ask you to help those people.


Hope my words will reach the Commission. There is no fairness in distributing assistance. The Commission may respond that it was based on those who have a bigger need. This is not true. Displaced people receive winter, food, financial assistance and rent from [gibberish], while others were denied. I'm registered, but I haven't received any food assistance for four years. I have two children. I'm not receiving anything, not even financial assistance. I was suspended as of the 5th month although I have children under the age of one year and I can't work because of certain barriers. The UN didn't [gibberish] housing because I was registered in 2015. There is a copy of my family file. I've been filing complaints and calling every day to no avail.


My mother is psychologically ill. I hope you can help. She came from Syria, specifically from ar-Raqqah, suffering from a mental and psychological condition. I can no longer afford to treat her.