Running Out Of Time: Survival of Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon

Report
from Harvard University
Published on 13 Jan 2014 View Original

NEW STUDY ADDRESSES PLIGHT OF SYRIAN REFUGEE CHILDREN IN LEBANON, AS ONSET OF WINTER HEIGHTENS HUMANITARIAN CONCERNS

Winter Conditions Pose Acute Risks to the Nearly One Million Syrians – More Than Half of Them Children – Who Have Sought Refuge in Lebanon Since March 2011

Cambridge, MA – January 13, 2014 – Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights today released a report on the plight of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon and the challenges of delivering humanitarian assistance. The report, titled “Running Out Of Time: Survival of Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon”, examines the conditions facing refugees and urges increased funding in advance of this week’s international meeting of donor countries in Kuwait (on January 15).

The authors of the report, Susan Bartels, MD, MPH (Fellow and Visiting Scientist at the FXB Center) and Kathleen Hamill, JD, MALD (Fellow at the FXB Center), conducted the assessment over a 10-day period in Lebanon in November 2013. During that period they interviewed Syrian refugee families in Beirut, Tripoli, and the Bekaa Valley, as well as a broad spectrum of informed staff at local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies.

Close to one million Syrians – more than half of them children under the age of 18 – have sought refuge in Lebanon since the outbreak of hostilities in their home country in March 2011, and the influx shows no signs of abating. At the current pace, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the number of refugees in Lebanon to increase to 1.5 million by the end of 2014.

Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations continue to struggle to meet basic refugee needs, and the onset of winter brings a heightened sense of urgency to the crisis. Among the report’s findings are the following:

· The predominant concern for families in the Bekaa Valley is the impending winter. The clothing and shelter of most families is insufficient for cold temperatures and wet weather, since many left home with only the clothes they were wearing. To meet refugees’ urgent need for shelter, informal tent settlements are materializing across Lebanon without proper planning, resources or infrastructure, which generates risk for infectious disease outbreaks.

· Child labor is widespread among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Syrian children must work to support themselves and their families out of economic need. They have found employment in circumstances that often endanger their well-being, including on the streets, in the fields, at construction sites, or in commercial locations. Furthermore, formal schooling is neither affordable nor accessible for the vast majority of Syrian children. Only one in five Syrian refugee children are currently enrolled in formal education programs in Lebanon.

· A large number of families are dependent on food vouchers and other food aid but report that the amount they receive is not enough to feed the whole family. Increasing rates of malnutrition in Lebanon are being reported, with more than 100 Syrian refugee children identified as suffering from malnutrition during a recent screening in the Bekaa Valley conducted by International Orthodox Christian Charities with the support of UNICEF.

· Many Syrian refugees struggle to access health care in Lebanon due to prohibitive medical costs. Syrian refugees who first arrive in Lebanon often suffer from traumatic injuries related to the conflict, while long-term Syrian refugees require routine treatment for chronic, pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, thyroid disorders and cancers. A number of Syrian refugees are falling into debt to secure medical treatment.

· Reports of early marriage – and marriages that may camouflage sex trafficking – raise concerns about the vulnerability of Syrian refugee children to being trafficked. Several stakeholders and local NGOs identified survival sex as a distinct problem among Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

“Additional international funding for Syrian refugee assistance in Lebanon is desperately needed,” said Dr. Bartels, co-author of the study. Hamill, the other co-author, added, “As our study reveals, the needs of refugee children are significant on many levels.” The UNHCR has called for $4.2 billion in fresh funding for the region for 2014, of which $1.7 billion would be targeted specifically for Lebanon.

The study is available at http://fxb.harvard.edu. For additional information or to speak with the authors, contact Bonnie Shnayerson, FXB Communications, at bshnayer@hsph.harvard.edu or (617) 432-7134. More information on the FXB Center is available at: http://fxb.harvard.edu/fxb-center-overview.