What is it like to be a refugee in Lebanon? The answer you’ll get will be different depending on whether you speak to a women, girl, man, or boy.
Early marriage and street harassment are just a few of the serious issues uniquely faced by refugee women and girls in Lebanon. And because of legal restrictions imposed on Syrian refugees by the Lebanese government, many refugee women and girls feel unable to report threats, harassment, or violence to the police. Refugee women and girls living in Lebanon, especially those in women-led households, are at risk of experiencing human rights abuses.
As part of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, Amnesty International is sharing the stories of two refugee women living in Lebanon.
Nour** (not real name) is 40 years old and is from southern Syria. She now lives in the Bekaa Valley region of Lebanon.
One day, my husband went out to the shops and never came back. That was in May 2013. I don’t know if he was taken by gangsters or detained [by the government]. Some people called me from my husband’s phone and said he was with them and asked for money. It was very stressful; they would call from time to time, very early morning or late at night. I would have paid them but they would tell me a date and then turn off my husband’s phone so I couldn’t do anything. After a few months I didn’t hear from them again.
I’ve been living in Lebanon since 2013. I don’t have any qualifications so it was very difficult for me to get employment. It was also very difficult for me to even rent a tent.
At first my daughter, son and I were living with my brother and his family. My daughter had to get married because we were under pressure. I didn’t approve of this but circumstances pressured us – economically, financially and psychologically.
When we came to Lebanon my children couldn’t continue their education. My brother wouldn’t let my daughter work. Since she was a young girl and a stranger, young men would harass her verbally even when she was with me or her uncle. We couldn’t protect her from this sort of harassment. She wanted to get a job but my brother refused and he beat her. As a reaction to this beating, when my brother’s wife said that she knew of an old man who wanted to get married, my daughter agreed. My daughter was 16 years old when she got married to a man 20 years older than her. Now she suffers a lot of problems because of this.
Since I left my house in Syria I lost every sort of freedom and liberty, my freedom of opinion. I couldn’t prevent the marriage because I didn’t have any sort of freedom financially or emotionally because of my dependency on other people.
Now I rent a small place for just my son, who is 14, and I. The place hardly qualifies for living – it only has one lamp and one pipe for water. An NGO helped me get a job teaching sewing. They pay me $100 a month but it costs me $40 per month for the transport to go to work and the rent costs me $150 a month.
My daughter lives in Beirut with her husband. Her husband was married before and already has children and his elderly mother also lives with them. My daughter is now 19 and has a baby. She’s a child raising a child. My daughter hasn’t visited me here since her marriage. She was going to visit once but she was stopped at a checkpoint and threatened with arrest because her residence permit is invalid. A Lebanese man vouched for her so the officer let her go. Now she’s too scared to travel. I can’t go to Beirut for the same reason. I’ve seen photos of her baby though. We mainly communicate through Whatsapp.
Hanan** (not real name) came to Lebanon in early 2013 and lives with her three daughters in Beirut. She is 38 years old and a Palestinian refugee from Syria’s Yarmouk Camp in Damascus. The government of Lebanon has introduced increasingly tight restrictions on refugees, especially Palestinian refugees. The UN reports that 85% of Palestinian refugees from Syria have been unable to meet the complex requirements for renewing their residency permits and are considered to have no legal basis for living in Lebanon.
My husband is in Germany. Since he left, people look at me weirdly, including the people who distribute aid. They put conditions on the aid, and say they will only give me the aid if I will see them later on. The taxi drivers also harass me and tell me that they will take me to places that are not where I asked to go.
I had an incident once with a bus driver when I was with my daughters coming back from Bekaa to Beirut. There was only one other man apart from the driver on the bus and I was alone with my daughters. The bus driver started doing abnormal actions to try and harass me. The first thing he did was take his gun and place it next to him so I would know that he had a weapon with him. My eldest daughter who is 16 was really terrified. But I had to tell her not to be scared and promised her that I would manage the situation.
How do you think I was able to get off the bus? I had to promise to come back to him and told him, “As you like, I will first just take my daughters home.” I took his phone number and his name because this was the only chance for us to get out. I gave him my phone number and smiled a lot so he would believe my lie and told him I would call him back. He said he’d call me Princess and I said, “OK, you can call me whatever you like.” I even thought to myself that, if things went to the extreme and I wasn’t able to get away, I would just give him whatever he wanted as long as he didn’t hurt my daughters.
I waited to complain until I reached Shatila police station in Beirut. I was really angry but they told me, “Do you know that you’re not eligible to present a complaint? You don’t have legal status.” And then they said in a sarcastic way, “Why did he come up to you and harass you in the first place?”
A lot of [refugee] women are subjected to assaults, harassment, theft and even rape but can’t present complaints because of their illegal status in Lebanon and being threatened with arrest.
My husband is sick and needs an operation. I want to travel to Germany to be with him. I feel stressed because he is sick and I can’t be with him. If we were in Germany, I could be working and my daughters would be getting an education.
Call to Action
The 1.2 million refugees from Syria living in Lebanon cannot go home. The responsibility for protecting and upholding the rights of the refugee population does not only lie with Lebanon. International support to the country must increase – urgently, and dramatically. Amnesty International is calling on the international community to increase the number of resettlement and humanitarian admission places for refugees from Syria that are currently hosted in Lebanon and other neighbouring countries. Resettlement should be equally available to Syrian refugees and Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria. Given the nature of the conflict in Syria and the high numbers of enforced disappearances incomplete family composition should be taken into account when considering cases for resettlement.
16 Days Campaign
The annual, global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign runs from November 25 to December 10. It is a time when activists around the world call for the elimination of gender-based violence by raising awareness locally, nationally, and internationally.