Aid worker highlights the plight of her community on World Humanitarian Day
Today, August 19 marks World Humanitarian Day and shines a light on the thousands of volunteers, professionals and crisis-affected people who deliver urgent health care, shelter, food, protection, water and much more.
"It makes it very special that as a Syrian refugee, I am able to support other Syrians."
WHEN war broke out in Syria in 2011, I was suddenly left widowed, cradling my six-month old son. Like many others, I thought the war would last for a few months and decided to relocate temporarily from Damascus to Lebanon with my elderly parents.
More than a decade later, many Syrian refugees in Lebanon are struggling to survive – let alone rebuild their lives.
The situation for Syrian refugees in camps in Lebanon remains especially dire. Last year, temperatures in the camp dropped to –4C and I have seen the devastating impact of this on families. In one camp, a two-month-old baby girl died from the cold, in another, a young girl was seriously injured when the water tank in her tent collapsed. Many Syrian refugees live in tarpaulin makeshift tents and are facing another harsh winter without fuel or warm clothes.
As a Syrian refugee, it is very hard to watch my community suffer. In 2018, I started working with a Lebanese charity SAWA, whose work is supported by Irish humanitarian agency Trócaire.
Lebanon remains at the forefront of one of the worst humanitarian crises. The country hosts 1.5 million of the 6.6 million Syrians who have fled the conflict since 2011. The Syrian refugee population in Lebanon remains one of the largest concentrations of refugees per capita in the world.
Adding to the humanitarian context, Lebanon is undergoing a series of overlapping crises on the political, economic, and social front, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. The capital Beirut is also still recovering from the effects of the devastating blast in the port of Beirut in August 2020.
Lebanon has also been hit by the conflict in Ukraine with the availability and costs of food and fuel being impacted. Syrian refugees are unable to afford bread, and many are left begging outside bakeries for scraps, or forced to go hungry. As the cost-of-living soars, families are no longer able to send their children to school – often the only source of hope for young families.
With the generous support of the Irish people through Irish Aid and Trócaire, SAWA supported 13,000 people in Lebanon in 2021, of which 8,000 were Syrian refugees. We provide humanitarian support to Syrian refugees in camps from food to medical treatment as well as psychological support for families who have experienced trauma.
We also work with Syrian women to empower them to become leaders in their communities. We train and work with these community leaders to gain the skills needed to speak publicly and represent their community. A lot of these women in the camps have gone through traumatic experiences fleeing the war. This is why it is also important to also to provide psychological support.
Once I started working with Trócaire/SAWA and saw the impact on the ground, I couldn’t stop. In spite of everything that is going on, we are able to support families. It makes it very special that as a Syrian refugee, I am able to support other Syrians. We are all from the same community, we have the same challenges. When you know you are helping families who are really in need, it makes me very happy, because I know firsthand how valuable this support is.
People think that the Syria conflict has gone away because they don’t hear any more about huge violence and bombings of cities. But while it might not be on your screens in Ireland, it is still far from safe. People cannot return home to Syria where there are no hospitals, schools – where your sons might be forced to fight with the military, against their will, to fight their own people.
This is why it is so important not to forget us. The Irish community have shown a huge generosity towards Syrians and towards refugees. We are very, very grateful for what the Irish people have done for us and the support we have received through Trócaire.
Hiba Almhammad is a Humanitarian support officer with Trócaire partner, SAWA for Development and Aid in Lebanon.