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IRIN - Lebanon


How the Lebanese school system is segregating refugees

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:30:54 +0000

The children, all refugees and mostly from Syria, filed awkwardly into the unfamiliar school. With its lush grounds and English posters on the walls, it was starkly different from their government-run public school in an outer suburb of Beirut.   In a gym room upstairs, the Syrian children lingered on one side and those from the private school on the other, but not for long. As part of an integration workshop run by the Beirut Art Centre and Seenaryo, an arts and education charity, they were put into pairs – one from each school – and then into groups to come up with a short play. By the end of the workshop, they had visibly relaxed. “I liked meeting new people,” said a boy from the private school. “I’ve never met anyone from Syria before,” said another.   Seenaryo runs these workshops regularly and commonly hears from the Lebanese children that they have barely interacted with a Syrian before, and vice versa. This is despite the fact that Lebanon has the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world. As of December 2016, there were more than one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. As many more are not registered, the actual figure is likely even higher. In a population of just four million, that means that at least one in every four people is Syrian, and yet host and refugee communities rarely mix – a situation that has allowed mutual resentment and suspicion to breed.   The “second shift” system   Half of the Syrians in Lebanon are under the age of 18. When they first began arriving in 2011, they had little access to education beyond informal and emergency schools set up by NGOs. As these were not formally recognised, children could not obtain proper qualifications and go on to further education.   In 2014, the Lebanese government took the unprecedented step of introducing a “second shift” of classes at public schools for refugee children. They could attend without having to provide proof of legal residency or pay school enrolment fees. The new system offered hope to thousands of refugee families, and the chance for children to get a formally recognised education.   There are now around 195,000 non-Lebanese children – nearly all Syrian – enrolled in Lebanese public schools, narrowly outnumbering the Lebanese children. The vast majority attend second-shift classes, held in the afternoons for refugees only.   Although the second shift system has obvious benefits, it comes with its own set of problems. By the afternoon shift, teachers are exhausted and learning time is compressed. “Human resources are stretched very thinly,” explained Oscar Wood, co-director of Seenaryo. “There are not always new teachers in the second shift, and core staff like heads and senior leadership have to stay all day.”   Even the best-developed infrastructure would feel the strain of such a system, but Lebanon’s public schools were already struggling before the influx of Syrian students.  An August 2016 report by the Lebanese ministry of education noted that public schools had been in “slow decline” for years. Problems with violence, poor discipline, and low teaching standards are so severe that only 30 percent of Lebanese children attend them; the rest go to private schools.   Partly because of these problems, but also because of the economic pressures on refugee children to work, around 250,000 Syrian children are either not enrolled in school or have dropped out before achieving a meaningful level of education. “Lebanese public schools are not succeeding in enrolling children and getting them to attend regularly,” said Wood.   Doubling up   For some Syrian children, supplementary schools are filling the gap. Dama School in the Bekaa Valley is run by 39-year-old Ghada Misto, who used to run nurseries and schools back in Daraya, Syria, where she is from. Teachers at the school are Syrian, but trained in the Lebanese curriculum. Almost all the children (aged six to 15) are also registered for second-shift public sch[...]

Slave labour? Death rate doubles for migrant domestic workers in Lebanon

Mon, 15 May 2017 15:31:52 +0000

A woman with a pink cloth wrapped around her head climbs out of a window on the fourth floor of a residential building. She peers at the ground far below, clutching onto the window ledge as voices in the background yell at her to come inside. Instead, she jumps, her scream lingering for four seconds before she hits the ground.   The video was broadcast on Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV in March, with a voiceover explaining that the woman was an Ethiopian domestic worker in Khalde, an area south of Beirut.   According to statistics obtained by IRIN from General Security, Lebanon’s intelligence agency, migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are dying at a rate of two per week. Many of the deaths are suicides or botched escape attempts in which migrant women choose to jump off buildings rather than continue working in abusive and exploitative situations.   Human Rights Watch reported on the situation of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon in a 2008 report that put the death rate at one per week. Since then, heightened activism and advocacy on the issue seems to have had little impact. The bodies of 138 migrant domestic workers were repatriated between January 2016 and April this year.   Rights groups have been advocating for better protections of migrant workers in Lebanon for years and in 2014 domestic workers managed to found their own union – the first of its kind in the region. Yet little has changed. Women coming from Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Kenya, and other developing countries are still bound by the kefala (sponsorship) system, which gives employers total control over their lives.   Beaten and sexually abused   Rahwa*, a 37-year-old from Eritrea, escaped after five years as a domestic worker for a wealthy family in Tripoli. She received no salary, no days off, and slept on the kitchen floor. She suffered beatings from her "madam" and sexual harassment from the woman's husband. “It was hell,” said Rahwa, who was not allowed to contact her family in Eritrea. Now she’s a registered refugee and is informally leading a migrant workers’ church in Beirut. She told IRIN that many of the women who come to her church feel trapped by the conditions of live-in domestic work. “Many are going crazy. Even when they run away, they live in rooms with six or seven people stuck together. That makes you crazy too,” Rahwa said.   The increase in migrant workers’ deaths coincides with a decrease in public reporting and enquiry. The only NGO actively tallying migrant domestic workers’ deaths is KAFA, a Lebanese women’s rights group, which relies on local news reports to map cases. They have found only 10 to 12 cases a year on average since 2010, and hadn’t detected the recent increase.   At a migrant community centre in Beirut, 37-year-old Ethiopian Rahel Zegeye, a volunteer with the pro-migrant rights Anti-Racism Movement, said that suicides are difficult to document because many women who die never left their employers’ homes. Zegeye has tried to follow up on several suicide cases but said: “I don’t have power to ask the government anything here.” She swiped through photos of injured Ethiopian domestic workers on her phone: some unconscious and bruised, others pregnant, sick, or bleeding on the floor – all of them women, many of whom Zegeye said had since died.   A hidden crisis   Ethiopia has banned labour migration to the Middle East, but migrant women continue to arrive illegally from there every day. Unseen and unrecorded, they are locked into work situations that often end in abuse, imprisonment, deportation or even death.   “So many Ethiopians come here… Why doesn’t the Lebanese government stop them?” said Zegeye. “Our young generation is dying here.”   KAFA communications coordinator Maya Ammar said her organisation had tried to gather more information about migrant deaths reported in the media from General Security, “but the file is closed after 24 hours, with no further investigation. We don’t know the girl, her name, [...]

Unconventional cash project challenges aid status quo in Lebanon

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 01:29:14 +0000

The EU and Britain have met resistance to a new $85 million project to simplify cash allowances for Syrian refugees. In future, only one contractor will handle the payments and another will monitor the project, replacing systems involving some nine aid agencies. The donors say the new arrangement, due to start in the next few months, will reduce duplication and improve accountability. The new formula, however, challenges the humanitarian status quo. A senior UN official says it may “undermine coordination” and “create problems”. The atmosphere around the bidding process has been at times “toxic”, insiders say.   Analyst Wendy Fenton of the Overseas Development Institute described the scheme as “deliberately disruptive” and a “real departure from business as usual”. The donors argue the design was a logical outcome of reform commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit last May and is in the best interests of refugees and taxpayers.   As IRIN has reported, the Lebanon operation is already a pioneer when it comes to using cash and bank cards to support refugees. Needy refugees get a variety of entitlements according to their circumstances, channelled as top-ups on a debit card. They also get e-vouchers to buy food. The key agencies are UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF, as well as a six-NGO group, the Lebanon Cash Consortium. Having moved the various systems to a single card and bank recently, the new proposal will simplify one channel still further.   The proposition – from the EU’s humanitarian aid arm, ECHO, and Britain’s international development department, DFID – departs from the status quo in three main areas: a single agency will manage cash transfers from the two donors; a separate independent contractor will monitor; the project will insist on delivering money, instead of vouchers.   “Common sense”?   The backers say the new concept is common sense. Opponents believe the move is hurried, the benefits unproven, and that a de facto monopoly will be less effective than the status quo.   Last year, UK and ECHO humanitarian spending in Lebanon totalled over $150 million (data: FTS) The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, Philippe Lazzarini, told IRIN the current system benefits from the “diversity and comparative advantage” of the variety of agencies involved. He said it represents “good practice” that “optimises and respects the respective mandates of the involved agencies”. He said those involved continue to look for further efficiency and impact gains, but “calling for a single agency provider in this context bears the risk to undermine the comprehensive coordination efforts”.   UN agencies have lobbied vigorously against the Lebanon move, sources close to the process told IRIN. Another source said that even within the UN family there were “massive disagreements”, as agencies fear the prospect of falling turnover and influence.   New research from Ukraine suggests that disputes over the management and coordination of cash-based aid is far from unique to Lebanon. In a fresh report from ODI, the risks of a muddled approach are described clearly: “Strategy and coordination became highly political, mandate-driven and largely removed from analysis on the best way to assist people. The lack of clear, global guidance on where cash transfers fit in humanitarian coordination and planning enabled agencies to contest arrangements that did not favour their institutional interests.”   A blog posting on the Cash Learning Project (CaLP) website, which included views of other critics, said: “we’ve been talking to the people involved. There is no hiding the widespread concerns.” It mentioned worries about how the transition to a new system would be handled, and how the interests of the most vulnerable refugees would be protected. It also stated, more bluntly, the fact that NGOs faced shrinkage: “NGOs now find themselves at risk of losing the footprint among communi[...]

Aid’s cash revolution: a numbers game

Wed, 02 Nov 2016 17:55:33 +0000

114.5: that’s the magic number. With a score above it, a Syrian family in Lebanon has largely to fend for themselves. Below it, the household’s vulnerability score makes them eligible for cash payouts, which they can spend on anything. Over the next few weeks, a range of refugee benefits will be merged onto a single bank card, as this data-intensive aid operation bets big on cash and consolidation. “It’s a hi-tech operation,” agrees Tatiana Audi of the UN’s refugee agency, which this week pledged to double its cash assistance worldwide by 2020. UNHCR is hoping that unified cash-based systems like this pilot project in Lebanon might revolutionise the piecemeal way in which aid is currently delivered, consolidating operations while pumping tens of millions of dollars a month directly into Syrian families’ pockets. But as the system is rolled out, the limitations of such schemes also become clearer. They can’t, for example, take care of needs that defy market solutions; build local institutions; catch every problem case, or empower local NGOs to play a greater role. Donors also can’t afford to pay the amounts calculated to keep the most vulnerable from destitution. How it works Jamal Abubaker (not his real name) is 80. He doesn’t have a score yet, but his new temporary village has a number. He has only just thrown in the towel after five years of civil war. He and his wife and his daughter left home in rural Aleppo a couple of weeks ago, as the war’s latest chapter started to threaten his area. They’ve now joined others in his extended family in Lebanon, in informal settlement number 51267-01-019. Ben Parker/IRIN Family and neighbours build a new shelter at a Syrian refugee settlement in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon   51267-01-019 is a cluster of rectangular plastic-clad shelters housing Syrian refugees in the Bar Elias area of the agricultural Bekaa Valley. It has a few shared latrines, a shop run by the community leader (yoghurt, Super Glue, lollipops), communal water tanks spray-painted with the names of aid agencies, municipal garbage bins, and a sketchy-looking electricity supply. A few chicken and sheep wander around. Young Mahmoud has adopted a stray kitten (more pictures here). Washing is drying on the line in the autumn sunshine. But the weather forecast is for rain: these few dozen families, mainly from the same area in Syria, will soon be tackling mud and cold as winter sets in. Casual work in the farms in the area will be harder to come by, as the news from home is likely to stay bad. Faisal’s new home is taking shape: a timber frame is already up, and scraps of scavenged wood are ready to be nailed on, before tarpaulin and plastic sheets make up the internal partitions and outside walls. In due course, this rudimentary structure will be numbered and added to the tally of 40,000 others in one of the numerous databases and spreadsheets that power the relief operation. There are several thousand of these informal settlements but they house only a fraction – some 225,000 – of the more than a million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Most pay more to rent space in houses, flats, garages, and half-finished buildings across the country. Lebanon has made it harder for Syrians to come and stay legally. However, like Jamal, people continue to arrive through clandestine routes or stay on lapsed papers. Not officially refugees (Lebanon anyway uses the term “displaced Syrians”), new arrivals remain in a legal limbo. Nevertheless, they are fed through a system of interviews, registration, and vetting managed by UNHCR. Jamal’s photo and the unique patterns of his iris will be scanned and stored. He will have a case number assigned and his details will be uploaded into UNHCR’s massive ProGres database. He’ll also be recorded in another database, the Refugee Assistance Information System, and a mobile app carried by UNHCR staffer[...]

Top Picks: Nauru, Lebanon, Haiti, the Hague and Geneva

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:15:19 +0000

Every week, IRIN's editors offer a selection of the most important and interesting resources that came on their radar. Here's this week's humanitarian reading list. ICC – “a bunch of useless people”? Burundi merely threatened, but South Africa has actually delivered the blow against the ICC. On Thursday it lodged an “instrument of withdrawal” at the UN, formally triggering a process that, one year from now, means it will no longer be a party to the Rome Statute. The move is significant. Whereas few African states have seemed willing to back Burundi (the government’s self-interest was just far too evident), South Africa is different – it’s a big hitter in the African Union. There may be domestic politics behind South Africa’s decision, clothed in a mantle of higher purpose. And it comes at a time of improving relations between the court and African countries. But before we get ahead of ourselves in condemning of Pretoria, it’s worth re-reading Oumar Ba’s take on the politics of the ICC, and ponder once more how the court’s reputation can be rescued. Is Australia torturing refugees? If you need more evidence that Australia’s offshore refugee system is, um, problematic, read this new report from Amnesty International. The rights group says conditions in the Australian-run detention centre on the Pacific island nation of Nauru “fit the definition of torture under international law.” Amnesty accuses the government of holding more than 1,000 people “behind a fortress of secrecy” where they face a torrent of harassment and violence. Australia’s Immigration Department quickly released a response accusing Amnesty of using “unsubstantiated claims made by individuals or advocacy groups as fact in the absence of evidence.” However, Amnesty’s researcher is one of the few people that’s been able to visit Nauru to verify such claims. Nauru has refused to grant media visas to organizations willing to pay the exorbitant price of $8,000, which suits Australia just fine. If Australia really believes Amnesty is lying about conditions in Nauru, maybe it should arrange for some journalists to visit and see for themselves. Reaching refugee survivors Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon don’t live in camps, so reaching them can be tough. Even more so for Syrian women and girls in the somewhat isolated border community of Wadi Khaled, the focus of this study from the International Center for Research on Women. The research zooms in on an International Rescue Committee project that aimed to support survivors of gender-based violence, a problem surrounded by stigma. Staff provided psychosocial support and referrals, but they started slow with coffee, tea and conversation. The study examines what worked and what didn’t – it was a challenge to find spaces where women and girls felt safe and get local communities on board, and sometimes they ended up in tents. And there are limits to referrals for those who will have difficulty accessing them. But the participants interviewed overwhelmingly gave the experience a thumbs up, and there’s clearly something to be said for bringing help straight to those who need it in a sensitive, smart manner.    Migration managers Migration is high on the agenda again as European leaders met in Brussels today and yesterday. Satisfied that a controversial agreement reached with Turkey and the border closures in the Balkans have brought boat crossings to Greece down to manageable levels, the EU has turned its attention to achieving similar results on the Central Mediterranean migration route. Agreements similar to the one with Turkey - using aid as leverage to secure countries’ compliance in controlling migration - are in the works with at least five major countries of origin and transit in Africa, including Ethiopia, Nigeria and Mali. But a recent analysis by strategic forecasting company, Stratfor, warns that such deals will only be[...]

Syrians make easy scapegoats in Lebanon

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 19:21:18 +0000

The Baalbek International Festival is in town. Under silvery bunting, telltale tourists drift around in shorts in the sleepy mid-afternoon heat. But it’s less of a lark for more than 130,000 Syrian refugees who live in the wider governorate of Baalbek-Hermel, in eastern Lebanon. Days before the first note was sung, the governor, Bashir Khodr, was reported to have tightened the existing curfew for Syrians, requiring them to stay inside between 6pm and 6am. He later denied the change, but in a sense it didn’t really matter – they would just face the usual 8pm to 6am restrictions instead. On opening night, 19-year-old Abdu, originally from Homs in Syria, decided to ignore the curfew and go down to Baalbek’s ancient ruins, where he found crowds and people eating ice cream. But he also found a man with endless questions: Was he Syrian? Why was he there? Didn't he know about the curfew? "It makes you feel like you’re… not welcome here,” Abdu told IRIN, referring to both his encounter and the curfew. “But I don’t see why I should be imprisoned in my house.” Why such antipathy? One month ago, on 27 June, multiple suicide attacks hit al-Qaa, a predominantly Christian village some 30 kilometres north of Baalbek. Five civilians were killed and several more injured. The authorities have made no connection between the attack and the more than one million registered Syrians in Lebanon, but that didn’t stop the finger of suspicion falling on them anyway. Lebanon’s army, intelligence agencies and security forces have detained several hundred Syrians. Refugees residing in mountainous, rural communities have experienced scattered reprisal attacks by civilians and even local police. Towns and villages up and down the country have meanwhile doubled down on existing curfews, imposing new restrictions on refugees’ freedom to move and ability to work. The reprisals It was only 24 hours after the al-Qaa incident when the first reprisal attack happened. High up in the mountains above Beirut sits Hrajel. The predominantly Maronite Christian village is one of the last settlements along the mountain road before it climbs up into the dusty brown peaks and drops down into the Bekaa Valley, home to around one third of the country’s registered Syrian refugees. Ahmad, a Syrian-Kurd originally from north Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood, was one of six Syrians badly beaten in the village that night. He lives in a shabby block of flats with other refugee families, separated from the rest of the village by a bumpy dirt road. “It was about 10.30pm. The electricity was cut (a regular occurrence in Lebanon) and some of the families were sleeping in the building,” he recalled. “Three or four cars came outside, and we heard shouting. They were using really bad words, and ordering the men to come down.” Ahmad said he and the others went downstairs, while their families looked on from the balconies above. “They made us kneel like this (he put his hands behind his back) and started beating each of us, in groups of three or four, with wrenches and knives.” Fathi, from Jisr al-Shughour in northern Syria, was also hurt that night. “We were humiliated in front of our wives and children, and the feelings of fear that we experienced back in Syria started to come back,” he told IRIN. Hrajel’s mayor, Tony Zugheib, said there had been “fighting” on the evening in question between locals and Syrians but that it was born of one refugee’s earlier refusal to produce identification. No arrests were made, but Zugheib said the perpetrators were given a warning. Ahmad believes the attack took place with the full knowledge of the authorities, but Zugheib insisted that his municipality treats Syrians “with the utmost humanity”. "We feel that our only duty is to keep the village secure and safe,” Zugheib said. "[But] of course we respect humanity and individual freedoms.” In t[...]

Eye spy: biometric aid system trials in Jordan

Wed, 18 May 2016 06:17:18 +0000

There is only one supermarket at Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp. It’s a cavernous space, packed with crowds and stacked with tins and boxes. Sabha, a mother of six who came here from Aleppo four months ago, browses the tinned pulses, eggs, rice and fresh vegetables that line the shelves and sits on her stacked rations for the month as she queues to buy them. When she pays, however, Sabha doesn’t take out her purse. She simply looks into a small black machine, and buys her groceries using only her eyes. Sabha is using a new iris scanning system that’s just been rolled out in Azraq, a camp that houses some 30,000 Syrian refugees in the Jordanian desert. The machine takes a detailed reading of her eye, matches it against hundreds of thousands of records, and deducts her grocery bill from her monthly World Food Programme allowance. This is relatively groundbreaking technology, and it’s now the standard means of distributing food aid in Azraq. “It’s a first not just for refugees, but for the whole shopping and retail industry,” Shada Moghraby, WFP’s spokeswoman in Jordan, told IRIN. Soon the scanners will be in Zaatari, Jordan’s largest camp for Syrians, and it’s hoped they’ll appear in urban supermarkets too, as the 85 percent of Syrian refugees who live in Jordan’s cities already use iris scanners to withdraw monetary assistance from cashpoints. But not all refugees are convinced of the technology’s value – Sabha says it actually makes her shopping more of a slog – and privacy advocates are concerned too. “The fact is that it is so powerful,” says Eric Töpfer of the German Institute for Human Rights. “If [the data] doesn’t stop [at aid use] and it’s shared more liberally and used with less control or without controls… then it can do harm.” New technology, new problems Sabha’s shopping is made possible by a biometric data network that’s now a normal part of life for the more than 600,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan. Iris scans, taken when refugees register in the country, are stored in a database kept by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and used to verify individuals as they seek assistance from UNHCR and, more recently, other UN agencies like WFP. The system has significant benefits over the cards it’s replacing. Cutting down on paperwork by connecting recipients direct to the allowances they receive, it’s a more secure method of delivery that ensures allowances are only used by the people they’re intended for. Moghraby says that feedback from refugees in Azraq camp has generally been positive, with particular advantages for the elderly. “It eliminates hassle and waiting time and can’t… get lost in the way cards can,” she says. At the supermarket, however, the refugees themselves don’t seem convinced at all. Sabha says that the eye-scanning system has made her life more, not less difficult. “I’m pregnant, and I’m frightened for my unborn child,” she explains, gesturing at the chaos of the supermarket. Because she’s named as the head of household responsible for the money only she can access the monthly WFP allowance with her eyes. “I’d rather my son go and get the food for me, but he can’t because of the iris scanner. My sister is in the same situation. She has six kids. They’re young, but she has to take them to the supermarket when she goes to pick up food.” Ivor Prickett/UNHCR Azraq has only one supermarket Her grievance becomes a common theme among the other shoppers: many say they prefer the older cards, which allowed them more freedom to cooperate with friends and ask family members to run errands on their behalf. The fact that Azraq’s single supermarket takes significant time and effort to get to only makes the situation tougher. Responding to the criticisms, Moghraby [...]

What’s it like to be a young Palestinian refugee in Lebanon today?

Thu, 17 Mar 2016 14:05:57 +0000

Of all the countries Palestinians settled in when they fled or were forced from what is now Israel nearly 70 years ago, Lebanon remains the most hostile to providing basic rights to the decades-old community and its thousands of descendants. As a result, they are systematically marginalised and disenfranchised. An influx of Syrian refugees and growing tensions between armed groups in some of the country's 12 official camps has made life increasingly difficult for Palestinians in Lebanon. Three-quarters of camp inhabitants live below the poverty line, scraping by on less than $6 a day - and that was before the Syrian crisis. So what does all this mean for young people growing up in this environment? How does it feel to be a 20-year-old young man from Nahr al-Bared looking for a job? What's it like to be a 19-year-old woman in Ain al-Hilweh who hears gun battles every day? How does a 25-year-old from Bourj al-Barajneh cope with the impossibility of the working restrictions? To find out, come and spend a week with Mohammad, Sara and Ali. Immerse yourself in their world though WhatsApp chats, videos, photos and handwritten notes. Click here to see for yourself what life is really like for young Palestinian refugees in Lebanon today.     Spend a week with Sara, Ali and Mohammad What’s it like to be a young Palestinian refugee in Lebanon today? Bourj al Barajneh.jpeg Venetia Rainey Special Report Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Health BEIRUT IRIN Middle East and North Africa Lebanon العربية [...]

No way out: How Syrians are struggling to find an exit

Thu, 10 Mar 2016 14:14:55 +0000

Over the last five years, close to 4.8 million Syrians have fled the conflict in their country by crossing into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But as the war drags on, neighbours are sealing their borders. Forced from their homes by airstrikes and fighting on multiple fronts, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers now have no legal escape route. Earlier this week, EU leaders reached a hard-won deal with Turkey aimed at ending a migration crisis that has been building since last year, and that in recent weeks has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece. But the agreement turns a blind eye to the fact that even larger numbers of asylum seekers are stranded back in Syria, unable to reach safety. Syrians hoping to apply for asylum in Europe first have to physically get there. EU member states closed their embassies in Syria at the start of the conflict, and even embassies and consulates in neighbouring countries have been reluctant to process visa and asylum applications. When Syria’s war erupted in March 2011, it was initially relatively easy for most refugees to leave the country. Those without the means to fly poured out in waves of tens of thousands across land borders into Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. But one by one, these exits have been restricted or closed off entirely. Jordan closed its borders to the vast majority of Syrians in September 2014, but many are still arriving there. The numbers stranded at crossing points near Rukban and Hadalat have been growing steadily since January and have now reached more than 37,000. Edgar Mwakaba/IRIN Lebanon was a popular way station. It had always been easy to cross the Lebanese border, and from there Syrian refugees with the money could either fly or seek passage by boat to Turkey – seen as the best gateway for illegal migration to Europe due to its proximity to Greece and the fact you didn’t need a visa to get there. But Lebanon ended its open-door policy for Syrians in January 2015 when it introduced new regulations requiring them to apply for difficult-to-obtain visas or a Lebanese sponsor before being admitted. And then in January 2016, the Turkish government began to require visas for Syrians arriving by land or sea, effectively cutting off Lebanon as a route to Europe. Other options are bleak. The heavily militarised and UN-patrolled border with Israel leads to the contested Golan Heights. Asylum seekers cannot cross. Iraq, particularly the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, saw an influx of Syrian refugees in 2013. The borders are now mostly closed to asylum seekers. Egypt, the other main aerial route out, closed its doors to Syrians without visas in July 2013. As “No Entry” signs were erected elsewhere, the perilous overland option through Syria’s northern border to Turkey became increasingly popular. North Aleppo Province: Syrians try to cross the Turkish border illegally width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen=""> Lindsey Snell/IRIN Syrians at an illegal crossing point in northern Aleppo Province talk about their attempts to cross into Turkey But Turkey, long the most generous host country in terms of the sheer numbers of Syrians it has taken in, closed its last two official border crossing points to almost all asylum seekers in March 2015. And in recent months, it has implemented further border controls aimed at not just cracking down on smugglers of goods and people, but also at preventing Kurdish fighters and militants from so-called Islamic State crossing its border with Syria. Now, the only remaining paths out – for tho[...]

Aid to Syrians: how far does it go?

Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:54:41 +0000

Struggling to find work and receiving little aid, many of Lebanon's 1.1 million Syrian refugees are barely getting by. An estimated 90 percent are in debt and nearly all have to make sacrifices. Some 603,000 refugees in Lebanon receive $21 in electronic vouchers each month from the World Food Programme. No more than five members of a family are eligible for this payment, which was temporarily reduced in July from $30 to $13.50 a month thanks to funding shortages. Other aid organisations provide limited cash assistance. The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, gives the 17,561 "most severely vulnerable refugees" $175 per month. Palestinian refugees from Syria also receive some help from UNRWA, the UN's agency for Palestine refugees. Various other groups provide other kinds of support, but it amounts to very little. Future WFP assistance in Lebanon is not a sure thing beyond the end of this year. Dina al-Kassaby, WFP spokeswoman for Lebanon, told IRIN that "without predictable funding, WFP may not be able to provide regular food assistance to the most vulnerable Syrian refugees beyond the next two months." Here's how six families make do: Samya Kallab/IRIN   Abdul Hamid From: Idlib Residence in Lebanon: Ansarieh, Tyre District Family size: 11 Monthly aid: $105 Family income: $350 on a good month Expenses: $650 There are three men in the family, so we were lucky. But, because of my heart condition, I can’t work, and my son-in-law... broke his leg, so he can’t work. There is one person left to support the family. My son works in construction, for around $30 to $35 a day. But the work is never steady and at most he might work 10 days in a month. We expect to make less in the winter because there isn’t much construction going on. There really is no way to cover our expenses. We have no choice but to go into debt. I have a big family; there are many mouths to feed. Our food budget alone every month is $100-$150. So we are in debt to the grocer. My wife buys grains, because they last, and vegetables, because they are cheap and she says they are healthy. She uses eggplant and potatoes for dishes that would normally have meat. I haven’t tasted meat in years. But the butcher, he’s a nice man, he gives us the bones for free. So my wife makes a big stew with tomatoes that lasts us at least four days. Samya Kullab/IRIN Samira From: Idlib Residence in Lebanon: Ansarieh, Tyre District Family size: 7 Monthly aid: $105 Family income: $250 Expenses: $500 Everyone in the family has high blood pressure, and we need medicine all the time. But it's not covered by the UN and I’ve tried to find organisations that can help us, but I don’t know where to go. I have a $3,000 debt with the pharmacist. It’s a terrible feeling: the feeling you owe someone for something so important for your survival. My sister Akram has a disability, but we can’t afford a wheelchair for her, so she has no choice but to crawl on her hands. We don’t make difficult decisions with our money, we make difficult sacrifices... I can’t tell you if we’ve found ways to make our money last. We’re just in debt, like everyone. Lebanon is so expensive. When we got here we had some savings, very little. matar_3.jpg Samya Kullab/IRIN matar_7.jpg Samya Kullab/IRIN Matar From: Aleppo Residence in Lebanon: Bisserieh, Sidon District Family size: 5 Monthly aid: $105 Monthly family income: $250 Expenses: $300 The trick is to make things last. We buy lots of vegetables, and grains. My wife makes a big vegetable burghul dish. It's delicious. We eat it almost every day. It lasts for[...]