As there are no formal camps in Lebanon, Syrian refugees have had to find and arrange their own accommodation in the country where over 80 per cent of refugee households rent their housing. Sixty-six per cent of refugees from Syria have sought refuge in residential and semi-urban areas, frequently in shelters with poor safety conditions, as well as inadequate water, sewage and electricity services.
Safaa, 45, a mother of seven children, fled with her family to South Lebanon, but they have never settled in one place.
“We have moved to more than 30 houses in eight years because we cannot afford the rent costs. We are always looking for rent-free houses to settle in,” says Safaa.
Safaa’s husband, Abed, is unable to obtain regular work due to back problems. Nevertheless, he looks for daily jobs in agriculture to provide for basic needs – like food – for his family, who are finding it difficult making ends meet due to their dire financial situation.
Forced to live in a tent
A month ago, Safaa’s family was evicted from a shelter where they were living rent-free. They were forced to pack their belongings and look for another place.
“The landlord wanted to rent out the house to another family who could pay him. We had no place to go and we begged him to stay until the end of the winter, but he refused and locked us out,” Safaa explains.
The landlord wanted to rent out the house to another family who could pay him. We had no place to go and we begged him to stay until the end of the winter, but he refused and locked us out.SAFAA, 45, Syrian refugee and mother of seven
Safaa and her family therefore set up a small tent in a nearby field, covering it with plastic sheets; it had no bathroom or kitchen facilities. Safaa hoped it would be a temporary solution. But the cold was unbearable, and as the rain, snow and wind battered the tent, Safaa’s family feared for their safety. They were vulnerable, they could not heat the tent and felt insecure about their future.
Saved by NRC
Safaa’s family spent a month in this tent before getting in touch with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
“I called the organisation and explained our difficult living conditions. Their staff visited us the next day and immediately provided us with life-saving shelter support,” says Safaa.
They were able to move in to a flat belonging to a Lebanese property owner, as part of a scheme where NRC, through funding by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA), renovates the apartment and the landlord hosts the family without them paying rent. Safaa signed a contract with the landlord for one year and two months.
Today, we are living in a big three-room flat with a kitchen, bathroom and a lock. I don’t have to worry about the rent or being suddenly evicted. We are safe.SAFAA, 45, Syrian refugee and mother of seven
“Today, we are living in a big three-room flat with a kitchen, bathroom and a lock. Here we feel safe and secure,” Safaa adds. “I don’t have to worry about the rent or being suddenly evicted. We are safe.”
Finally a home with peace and safety
Safaa’s family now is able to enjoy a cosy place with windows, doors and blankets at night. Their new flat has been life-saving for Safaa and her children. It is different compared to living in a tent and she has made it into a home. She has created a space for the children to have fun and play, to watch TV and do their homework. They can finally feel safe. They have been given a feeling of peace and security in their challenging life as refugees. Now, they can hope for a better future.
Her son, Ahmad, helps her with everything at home. He looks after his siblings and performs any chore his mum asks of him.
“I always check the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) file and remind my mum to renew it before it expires. I keep track of everything that is going on here,” says an excited Ahmad. The other children spend the days in their new home doing various chores. Safaa’s other son enjoys colouring and is excited that he has a big space to draw in. Her daughters, who dream of becoming teachers, have their own corner where they can study.
In 2018, shelter conditions for Syrian refugees deteriorated, with 34 per cent of refugees living in non-residential and non-permanent structures, such as informal tent settlements, compared to 26 per cent the year before. This was particularly significant among female headed households, where 44 per cent were living in non-residential structures. Receiving adequate shelter assistance has therefore been essential for ensuring that refugee families like Safaa’s can meet their basic needs.
*Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.