Would you want to return to Syria if you fled the war as a refugee?
Could you imagine if half the population of Ireland was forced to leave their homes due to conflict?
Tomorrow, the war in Syrian will enter its 9th year. Of a population of 22 million people, nearly six million people have been forced out of Syria as refugees. Over six million have been displaced inside Syria.
The human cost of this war is truly shocking. An estimated 500,000 people have been killed during the conflict.
If you are one of the one million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, this is most likely your daily reality:
You will live on less than US$3 per day, which is the minimum required to survive in Lebanon. Over half of all Syrians in Lebanon live below this threshold.
You probably don’t work. Only 43% of refugees have informal work. For women this is even lower at 16%.
You depend on borrowing money - nearly nine out of every 10 households are heavily in debt.
You are dependent on humanitarian aid. Yet even that assistance is not guaranteed – only 44% of overall humanitarian funding was received last year.
Your living conditions are dire - approximately one third of households live in tents or other unsuitable conditions. This is in a climate where temperatures can rise to the high 30s in summer and drop to sub-zero in winter.
Your children are unlikely to go to school - more than half of refugee children are still out of school.
You are unlikely to be allowed to stay legally - 73% of Syrians don’t have a legal permit to stay in Lebanon. So you will spend your time avoiding roads with checkpoints, you will work in the black economy, often under exploitative conditions, and hope that your employer doesn’t report you, all in fear of being arrested and taken to the border with Syria.
With all of this, your focus is on surviving day to day. If you ever think about the future, you have no idea what it holds for you or your family. You are very dependent on others, leaders in the region and in the international community, to determine your future.
So, do you want to return home? The answer is absolutely, yes.
If you are thinking of returning to Syria, you also have to consider the following:
It is likely that your home either has been destroyed during the conflict, or is occupied, and over 65% of people in a recent survey have said this is the case.
You are likely to be unemployed and over half the population of Syria is unemployed.
Over 50% of the social services infrastructure either has been destroyed or is not operational. So you are likely to be without water and health care.
But what really makes your decision very difficult, is fear for your own security:
Forced military conscription exists for 18 to 42 year-olds. Avoidance is punishable with 5 years’ imprisonment.
You face harassment based on sectarian or assumed political views.
You face violence, which could include rape at the hands of various militia groups on all sides.
You risk being disappeared or killed.
Faced with these considerations, would you go back?
For most of the one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon it is simply not safe to return. Any discussion on return, must be voluntary, dignified and safe.
Refugees need assurances of safety, a meaningful peace process and accountability for war crimes. Without these it will be very difficult for the 12 million people to return home and bring this humanitarian crisis to an end.
Trócaire, working with local organisations, is providing humanitarian assistance both in Lebanon and in Syria. We provide food, shelter, and basic household items (especially during the recent harsh winter months).
Trauma from the conflict is also a huge issue, and we provide counselling and psychosocial support to affected families. We also support people with skills and vocational training.
This Lent our campaign is focusing on communities who have lost their land, and we are highlighting the story of Maya and her family. They are Syrian refugees who fled the war and live in the Beqaa valley in Lebanon.
Please donate this Lent, and you can help build hope for Maya, her parents and millions more like them.