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Photo: B&Z


World Refugee Day 20th June 2021: ‘Many people are able to wait out the pandemic at home, but Syrian refugees don’t have that luxury’

Four years ago, talented tailor and keen footballer Ahmad’s dreams were dashed when he was injured in the Syrian war and became a wheelchair user.

Thanks to Trocaire partner B&Z, Syrian refugee children have been able to learn from home in Lebanon during the Covid-19  pandemic. Thanks to Trocaire partner B&Z, Syrian refugee children have been able to learn from home in Lebanon during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the civil war continued to rage through Syria, Ahmad sought refuge in Lebanon, but lost all hope of pursuing his past dreams. He remained in his room until he heard about a local charity called Basmeh & Zeitooneh, one of Trócaire’s partners, who were offering training and small grants to future business owners.

Ahmad attended one of the sessions in a community centre in the Bar-Elias region of Lebanon and signed up for management and finance training after which he received a small grant to launch his own tailor business.

His talents were quickly recognised and today, he is one of the most popular tailors in the region and has a small business within his home.

He continues to work hard to fulfil his dreams, and to help his fellow people who have suffered from the war.

Ahmad is just one of the 82.4 million people in the world who have had to flee their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations.

Every day around the world, 30,000 people – more than the total amount who live in Kilkenny city – are forced from their homes, abandoning their entire lives in search of safety.

Today is World Refugee Day, which provides an important opportunity to reflect on the refugee crisis and our responsibility to support and protect these people – many of whom are living in refugee camps and facing the spread of Covid-19.

Fadi Hallisso, Co-Founder and CEO of Basmeh & Zeitooneh, is a former civil engineer and was pursuing a career as a Jesuit priest in Lebanon when the conflict in his home country of Syria escalated.

Seeing the Syrian death toll rise drove Fadi to action.

In 2012, he left the priesthood to co-found the organisation Basmeh & Zeitooneh (B&Z), which supports Syrian refugees and vulnerable populations living in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

Basmeh & Zeitooneh’s Impact

Since 2012, working in partnership with Trócaire, B&Z has been providing these communities with education, protection, ways to earn an income and relief services.

“One of our main priorities is ensuring that families can sustain their livelihoods. People can’t survive on aid alone, they need to work and provide for themselves. We provide people with training on how to enter the labour market, and provide them with funding to start their own businesses and projects,” Fadi said.

“In our schools, we support 2,400 Syrian refugees to continue their education by offering retention support and removing barriers to their education. In our learning centres, we teach Syrian refugees Arabic, English, math, science, literacy and Turkish to prepare them to re-enrol in formal education.”

In addition to forced displacement and economic insecurity, Covid-19 is now also a threat to people living in crowded camps that often lack basic sanitation.

Fadi says the biggest problem his organisation now faces is trying to ensure funding continues to those most in need.

“The next year will be a fight for survival.”

“When Covid-19 first hit, we mobilised our resources quickly to respond to the lockdown. In Lebanon, a lot of people work in the informal sector so they are counting on daily wages to survive. Lockdown means that they might be left to starve. We supported some 20,000 families with food packages, cash and hygiene kits.”

“We also urged donors to donate money to get devices for our students to continue their schoolwork. Our teachers adapted quickly to doing lessons on WhatsApp and we developed an online platform for students to work with their teachers.”

Thanks to Trocaire partner B&Z, Syrian refugee children have been able to learn from home in Lebanon during the Covid-19  pandemic. Thanks to Trocaire partner B&Z, Syrian refugee children have been able to learn from home in Lebanon during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Unfortunately, as always, those with the least resources are most affected by Covid-19. A lot of people around the world are able to sit at home and wait for the pandemic to pass, but Syrian refugees didn’t have that luxury because their livelihoods depend on them reporting to work daily. Fortunately, we were able to respond quickly to families’ needs because of the support of our donors.”

“However, with the effects of Covid-19, 2022 will be a very grim year for us because there are no new cycles of funding being announced and it is becoming harder to secure any available funding as we have to compete with international organisations.”

“Thankfully, we are partners with Trócaire and it has been a very good partnership for us. Trócaire is always very understanding of our needs and difficulties and we have a say in the decision-making.”

7 key facts about displacement:

  • 85% of the world’s refugees are hosted in low-income countries, which are already struggling with high levels of poverty
  • UNHCR identified 1.4 million refugees as particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement, yet only 22,800 refugees were resettled in 2020
  • Forced displacement has almost doubled in the last decade since 2010
  • As many children are among the displaced as the entire populations of Australia, Denmark and Mongolia combined
  • 77% of refugees are in long-term displacement situations
  • A sixth of the world’s total number of displaced people comes from just Syria alone

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