As harsh weather conditions sweep across Lebanon, thousands of Syrian refugees have been left vulnerable in the hill town of Arsal. The Lebanese government opposes the creation of formal refugee camps, so many refugee families have resorted to living in informal tented settlements.
The whole tent flooded
Intisar and her family , who fled to Lebanon in 2013, live in one of those settlements. Without proper walls to protect them from the stormy winter weather, their tent flooded. The family was forced to evacuate.
“My family and I are sleeping in a relative’s tent until the floor dries,” Intisar explains. “All our mattresses, blankets and pillows are soaking wet. We are trying to dry them outside but there is barely any sun.”
“I’m constantly worried about the rain and wind. The other day the wind was so strong that the tent almost collapsed on our heads. The rain was pouring in from the ceiling and window, leaving the whole tent flooded.”
Children help with the repairs
The family are struggling to repair the damage, and are having to rely on the help of their children in the hope of moving back in.
“My husband is trying to repair our shelter with the help of our ten and eight-year-old sons, Mahmoud* and Adnan*. They are removing nails, replacing the timber and covering the roof so the tent doesn’t flood anymore. They work as if they were adults,” Intisar told us, regretfully.
Struggling to make ends meet
Refugees represent over a quarter of Lebanon’s total population. This has created a huge strain on the country’s infrastructure and public services. Refugees cannot legally work, and frequently struggle to meet their essential needs. Seventy-three percent of Syrian refugee households live below the national poverty line.
Since fleeing Syria, Intisar’s family have had to rely on their eldest son, Majd, to make ends meet. Majd is now 18 and been working since he was just 14. He is often separated from his family for long periods of time to avoid transport costs.
“Majd breaks my heart,” says Intisar, tearfully. “His childhood was taken from him and he had to quit school to provide for us. No child should have to take responsibility for their family.”
Living in informal settlements, especially in wintry conditions, can have a significant impact on refugees’ health. Intisar’s family is unfortunately no exception.
“It is very distressing to live like this. I’m constantly worried about my family and the health of my children. The most challenging part of life here is when your child becomes sick and you can’t take him or her to a doctor to get treatment. My son and daughter both need medication that we can’t afford,” says Intisar.
The refugee families living here in Arsal are increasingly vulnerable as the winter temperatures drop. The Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) emergency response team, with the support of European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), has been on the ground assessing the damage. We have been providing emergency kits consisting of items such as timber, plastic sheets, mattresses, blankets and hygiene products to families in need.
“My only wish for the future is that Syria will be safe again so that my family and I can return,” Intisar concludes.
*Names changed for confidentiality.