Refugees and their feline friends

“I feel like he is more than a friend, he is like my brother,” says ten-year-old Leen*, a Palestinian Syrian refugee living in Lebanon. But who is this special individual? None other than her pet cat, Basbous.

Pets have a special place in the hearts of their owners. They provide affection and companionship, reducing stress levels and alleviating loneliness. For people forced to flee, a pet can be a vital source of comfort.

Here are some stories of refugees in Lebanon who have developed special relationships with cats far away from their homeland.

Read caption “Basbous likes to play with my toys and the dress I wear,” says Leen*, 10, of her pet cat. Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC

I have a cat called Basbous, and he has been with me for two months. I didn’t want to give him a clichéd name, I wanted to give him a special name – that’s why I chose Basbous. No-one here gives their cats this name.

Basbous likes to play with my toys and the dress I wear. He also likes to play with the rosary. I feed him mortadella, and his favourite food is chicken. Whenever I go out, he waits for me by the door, or follows me around the neighbourhood. And when I come back, he runs towards me and starts winding his tail around my legs and nuzzling me. I always miss him whenever I am out.

He is mostly attached to me and my mother. I feel like he is more than a friend, he is like my brother. If we go back to Syria, I want to take him with me.

– Leen*, 10, a Palestinian Syrian refugee in Lebanon

Samira, 35, a Syrian refugee who lives in Lebanon.
Cat name: Lili

“I decided to raise cats at home to make my two sons feel better, they suffer from a neurotic and mental illness. Raising cats at home is expensive, they need a special food, and other requirements.  However, my children happiness is a priority for me, no matter how much it costs.

My sons asked me to get them cats, and I noticed that this might support them emotionally. My son, *Ahmad, is obsessed about animals, he would enjoy living in a jungle. He also asks me to get dogs for him, he likes to raise animals that cannot live here in the house, and once he asked me to get him a bear!

Raising kittens is more challenging than raising big cats, the kittens need more care and attention. After raising a good number of cats, I acquired a good experience in raising cats, I watch YouTube videos about cats and birds. I have information not only about cats, I have information about %50 of the animals, even *Ahmad, my son.

Once I had a competition here with my neighbor, he made an electronic eggs’ hatcher and I made a manual one, the one I did succeed and his one didn’t. I am very obsessed about everything related to animals.”

Photo:  Nadine Malli/NRC
Read caption “I decided to raise cats at home to make my two sons feel better,” explains Samira, 35, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon. Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC

I decided to raise cats at home to make my two sons feel better. They suffer from mental health problems. Raising cats at home is expensive, but my children’s happiness is a priority for me, no matter how much it costs.

My son Nabil* is obsessed with animals – he would enjoy living in a jungle. He also wants me to get dogs for him, and once he asked me to get him a bear!

Raising kittens is more challenging than raising adult cats because the kittens need more care and attention. After raising a good number of cats, I have acquired a lot of experience. I watch YouTube videos about cats and birds. Once I had a competition with my neighbour here: he made an electronic egg hatcher and I made a manual one. Mine succeeded and his didn’t. I am fascinated by everything related to animals.

– Samira*, 35, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon

*Rami, 13, a Syrian Refugee who Lives in Lebanon.

“I love animals because I have no friends, they are like my siblings. I enjoy playing with them, they mean everything to me.
It is different here in Lebanon from my homeland Syria, I have gone through many things here, that’s why I cannot go and play with others, and that’s why I like animals and I like playing with cats.

The cats follow me everywhere, I play with them with the thread and the ball, and give them a shower 

I had a white cat before, but it was stolen, I raised him since he was a kitten, I used to feed him milk in the baby bottle. I cried so much when it was stolen. He was everything to me.”

Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC
Read caption “My cats are like my siblings. I enjoy playing with them, and they mean everything to me,” says 13-year-old Rami*, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon. Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC

I love animals because I have no friends here. My cats are like my siblings. I enjoy playing with them, and they mean everything to me. It is different here in Lebanon from my homeland Syria. I have been through many things here, that’s why I cannot go and play with other children, and that’s why I like animals.

The cats follow me everywhere. I play with them with a string and ball, and give them a shower.

I had a white cat before, but he was stolen. I raised him from a kitten and used to feed him milk from a baby’s bottle. I cried so much when he was stolen. He was everything to me.

– Rami*, 13, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon

Hashem, 38, a Syrian refugee who lives in Lebanon
 Cats’ names: Zaynoun and Zannoun (referred to a Syrian series he used to watch it)

“I love cats since I was very young, but I encountered an incident which made me take the decision to raise cats. Once I was about to drive my work car at night, and I heard a cat meowing, she didn’t stop meowing. I got off the car, and I saw my son, *Ahmad, attached to one of the tires, so I carried him, and took him home. The cat was warning me that something is wrong, she saved my son, and since then I always raise cats.

I used to have 12 cats here in Lebanon, but as we live in the mountains, the hyena ate most of them, only 5 are left now.

I love them like my children, I am very affectionate with them. It is something I can’t explain in words, I love taking care of them, feeding them, and cleaning them. 
I consider it a charity deed, God rewards us by taking care of the cats.

They complete my life, whenever I miss anyone of them, I go and look for them.
They always follow me, and sit around me. They are a part of my family, they make me feel better emotionally.

If I go back to Syria, I will give them to someone I trust to take care of them, I don’t think I would be able to take them with me to Syria, crossing the borders with them is not easy.”

Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC
Read caption “I love taking care of [my cats], feeding them and cleaning them,” explains Hashem*, 38, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon. Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC

One night I was about to drive my car and I heard a cat meowing. It wouldn’t stop, so I got out of the car and saw my son, Ahmad*, attached to one of the tyres. I picked him up and took him home. The cat was warning me that something was wrong. She saved my son, and since then I have always raised cats.

I love them like my children and am very affectionate with them. It is something I can’t explain in words. I love taking care of them, feeding them and cleaning them. I consider it a charity deed – God rewards us by taking care of the cats. They are a part of my family and make me feel better emotionally.

If I go back to Syria, I will give them to someone I trust to take care of them. I don’t think I would be able to take them with me to Syria – crossing the borders with them would not be easy.

– Hashem*, 38, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon

*Ahmad, 10, A Syrian refugee in Lebanon. Cats’ names: Zaynoun and Zannoun 

“I have two big cats, and five kittens, I raise them, and I worry a lot about them.
Especially the mother because she breastfeeds her kittens. So, she feels hungry very fast. I feed her and give her water. Whenever I find a cat on my way, I feed her and pet her.

When I wake up, they run toward me, so I feed them and pet them, I love taking care of them.

When I come back from school, they wait for me on the door, and walk between my legs.”

Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC
Read caption “Whenever I find a cat on my way, I feed her and pet her,” says ten-year-old Ahmad*, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon. Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC

I have two adult cats and five kittens. I raise them and I worry a lot about them. Especially the mother because she breastfeeds her kittens and gets hungry very quickly. I feed her and give her water. Whenever I find a cat on my way, I feed her and pet her.

When I wake up, the cats run toward me, so I feed them and pet them. I love taking care of them.

When I come back from school, they wait for me by the door and walk between my legs.

– Ahmad*, 10, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon

Nawal, 56, a Palestinian Refugee from Syria who lives in Lebanon.
Cat name: Antar

I raised “Antar” since he was a kitten, his mom gave birth to him in this building where I Live, now he Is two years old.
Whenever I go in the neighborhood, he follows me, but whenever he sees kids he hides from them.

He eats whatever we cook, but he doesn’t like food with tomatoes. The neighbors here like him, and get him food as well.
He likes playing with me, and he jumps on me. Once he got sick, I felt so worried about him, I asked my nephew to take him to the vet. Two days later he got better.

I got used to him, I am very attached him. I always ask about him. Some people complain that I raise a cat at home, saying that it is a dirty animal and will transfer diseases for me, but I don’t listen to them. 

If I go back to Syria, I will leave him with my friend to take care of him.
I don’t want to take the risk, they might catch him on the checkpoint.
I will always remember him, and God will put other good people on his way to take care of him.

Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC
Read caption “I raised Antar from a kitten... Whenever I go into the neighbourhood, he follows me,” says Nawal*, 56, a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon. Photo: Nadine Malli/NRC

I raised Antar from a kitten. His mom gave birth to him in this building where I live, and now he is two years old. Whenever I go into the neighbourhood, he follows me. He eats whatever we cook, but he doesn’t like food with tomatoes. The neighbours here like him and get him food as well.

I am very attached to him. Some people complain that I raise a cat at home, saying that it is a dirty animal and will transfer diseases to me, but I don’t listen to them.

If I go back to Syria, I will leave him with my friend to take care of him. I don’t want to risk him being caught at the checkpoint. I will always remember him, and God will put other good people in his way to take care of him.

– Nawal*, 56, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon


*Names have been changed for protection reasons.

Read caption In this video, refugees in Lebanon talk about their relationships with their cat companions.