"Everywhere the bombing followed us": Forced displacement and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas - Perspectives of Syrian women refugees in Lebanon
Handicap International today published its new report ‘Everywhere the bombing followed us’. Based on a survey of 205 Syrian refugees in Lebanon and in-depth interviews of 14 Syrian women refugees, the report reveals the multiple forced displacements caused by bombings. The report highlights the specific impact of destruction caused by these bombings on women.
According to the report, nearly half of those interviewed were initially internally displaced in Syria. More than half of the interviewees were forced out again and again before finding safe refuge in Lebanon: they were displaced on average three times inside their home city to escape bombing (some up to ten times). “My husband had a small car. We all managed to fit inside and hit the road, leaving the bombing behind us. That was scary but we felt relieved as we were driving away from the bombing. The feeling did not last long: everywhere the bombing followed us, until we came here in Lebanon.” explains Afisa, whose son became paralysed after being a victim of the shootings and shelling.
Bombing and shelling were cited by interviewees as the primary cause of their forced displacement within and from their home city. “Each time the bombing escalates, people escape. It’s the same in each city. We were in a state of continual settlement and forced migration. There is no safe place, no prospect of tomorrow. We lived in a state of suspense, waiting in fear that someone would die in a bombing, a mine incident, or from sickness,” explains Amira who lost one of her sons and her husband in a bombing. She found refuge in Lebanon in 2016 and now lives with her younger son.
Women are more vulnerable to the social chaos to which bombing gives rise. They find themselves without the means to defend their physical integrity and are more vulnerable to crime. “For a full eight months, we lived a life of running and constant escape. We no longer had a home. We no longer had our family around us. We had no place to go. We were two women alone. We were left to ourselves, sleeping in the streets with total strangers, wherever we could find shelter. We had to beg. I was injured and very sick. The destination was safety and security. This is the only thing we were looking for but we did not know where it was. I did not find it.” explains Asil who flee to Lebanon with her daughter after her house was destroyed in a bombing.
After the physical risks (50% of interviewees) and the destruction of homes and public infrastructure (36%), the psychological impact of fear, stress and distress were mentioned by interviewees as the third collective impact of the use of explosive weapons in Syria (35%). For women, it is the second most significant effect of explosive weapons use. “It is suffering that cannot be described in words, the words cannot describe the horror we have been through. War destroyed the best years of my life, it took my son, my brothers, it took my existence, it made me sick, because of fear and stress.” says Amira.
All respondents noted having a family member or a friend killed due to explosive weapons violence. “I clung to life because I loved myself; I loved my children; I loved my friends; I loved my students; I loved my house, the walls, and the olive trees. I lost my son - he died; my brother died; my student died; my neighbour died; my friend died; my cousin died. Death surrounds you. I am afraid of death and of the thought that at any moment I might lose my other son, my mother, or my loved ones,” says Amira, who was a teacher back in Syria.
Female interviewees also consistently mentioned the long-term impact of fear on themselves and their children. “My daughter was always afraid. She wet the bed out of fear and she also often peed her pants. She would then take a shower by herself. She was always looking for me and asking to sleep on my lap,” says Nadia, who lost one of her daughters, her brothers and mother in Syria.
Handicap International is providing physical rehabilitation services and psychological support to people affected by the conflict in Syria.
The organisation is appealing to the parties to the conflict to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The organisation is also calling on the international community to strongly condemn this practice and to take action to bring it to an end.
“The primary impact of bombing mentioned when describing the causes of forced displacement in Syria is the fear of being killed or injured, and yet indiscriminate bombing has become commonplace in the conflict in Syria,” says Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Handicap International UK. “More than half of Syrians are refugees in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced in the country. Forced displacement is coupled with the destruction of houses, personal goods and livelihoods. Families who flee suffer extreme deprivation. States must recognise the lasting humanitarian disaster caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”