Shortfalls in international assistance and discriminatory policies imposed by the Lebanese authorities are creating conditions that facilitate the exploitation and abuse of women refugees in Lebanon, said Amnesty International in a new report today published ahead of the Syria donors conference in London later this week.
The 60-page report, ‘I want a safe place’: Refugee women from Syria uprooted and unprotected in Lebanon, highlights how the Lebanese government’s refusal to renew residency permits for refugees and a shortage of international funding has left refugee women in a highly precarious position, putting them at risk of exploitation by people in positions of power - including landlords, employers and even the police.
Last year, Lebanon stopped the UN Refugee Agency from registering Syrian refugees and introduced new regulations making it difficult for refugees to renew their residency status. Without proper legal status they face arbitrary arrest, detention and even deportation, leaving many afraid to report abuse to police. Twenty percent of Syrian refugee households in Lebanon are headed by women and in some cases they have become the main income providers, supporting the family after their husbands were killed, detained, forcibly disappeared or abducted in Syria. Many refugee women have said they struggle to meet the high cost of living in Lebanon, which has exposed them to greater risk of exploitation. Some said that they received inappropriate sexual advances from men or offers of financial or other assistance in exchange for sex.
Asmaa, a 56-year-old Palestinian refugee from Syria living in Shatila, a refugee camp in Beirut’s southern suburbs, said she did not permit her daughters to work for fear they would face harassment. She said: “My daughter worked in a store. The manager harassed her and touched her. That is why I don’t let my daughters work now.”
Several women also said they had left a job or not taken a job because they felt their employer’s behaviour had been inappropriate. Meanwhile, in a climate of widespread discrimination against refugees in Lebanon, refugee women who have managed to find jobs to support themselves reported being exploited by employers who have paid excessively low wages.
The majority of refugees from Syria in Lebanon are struggling to survive in often desperate conditions. They face widespread discrimination and major obstacles in obtaining food, housing or a job. It was very clear to the women we spoke to that the harassment and exploitation they face is made even worse by the fact they have nowhere to turn to for help and protection because they lack valid residence permits.
Poverty, exploitation by employers and landlords
Around 70% of Syrian refugee families are living significantly below the Lebanese poverty line. The UN humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis has been seriously underfunded, and last year only received 57% of the funds it requested for its Lebanon work. In mid-2015, the severe financial shortage forced the World Food Programme to reduce the monthly food allowance provided to the most vulnerable refugees from £21 to £9.50. After an injection of funding late last year, it was increased to £14 - still less than 50 pence a day. A quarter of the women Amnesty spoke to had stopped receiving payments for food over the last year.
Finding enough money to pay for accommodation is another significant challenge. At least 58% of Syrian refugees live in rented apartments or houses, while others live in dilapidated buildings and informal settlements. Many women said they were unable to afford the exorbitant rents and found themselves in squalid accommodation.
Need for resettlement and safe routes
Amnesty is calling on the international community to increase the number of resettlement places and other safe routes out of the region offered to refugees from Syria, including by enabling refugees to be reunited with their families in Europe. In addition, they must boost financial assistance and use this week’s donor conference in London (4 February) to pledge to fulfil the UN’s funding requirements for assistance for the Syria crisis for the period 2016-17.
Photo: Getty/DIMITAR DILKOFF