Young lives disrupted: gender and well-being among adolescent Syrian refugees in Lebanon
The conflict in Syria that began in 2011 has resulted in the exodus of over 5 million Syrian refugees to neighbouring countries, with more than one million refugees currently registered by UNHCR in Lebanon. While some are living in tented settlements, the majority are living in strained conditions in rented accommodation or collective shelters in the Bekaa Valley next to Syria. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable in any crisis. In 2013–4, the American University in Beirut in collaboration with the Women’s Refugee Commission, Johns Hopkins and Save the Children, sought to understand the specific experiences of very young adolescents, those 10–14 years of age, in this protracted crisis context.
The study was conducted in 2014 in Barelias and Qabelias – two urban areas located close to each other in the Beka’a valley that has a large concentration of Syrian refugees. Focus group discussions (FGDs), including community mapping and photo elicitation, were conducted with 10–12 and 13–14 year old Syrian refugee adolescents, in order to obtain information about their experiences and perspectives. FGDs were also implemented with 15–16 year old Syrian refugees and separately also with adult refugees, to consider their perspectives on the needs and risks of these adolescents.
Results A total of 16 FGD (8 for each sex, with 6–9 participants in each) were conducted in Arabic across the two sites, with 59 female participants and 59 male participants. The experiences and risks faced by these adolescents were significantly impacted by economic strain and loss of educational opportunities during displacement, and only a minority of adolescents in the study reported attending school. Additionally, on-going protection risks for girls were felt to be higher due to the crisis and displacement. In Lebanon this has resulted in increased risks of child marriage and limitations in mobility for adolescent girls. Adolescents, themselves expressed tensions with their Lebanese counterparts and feared verbal attacks and beatings from school-aged Lebanese male youth.
Families and adolescents have been dramatically affected by the conflict in Syria, and the resulting forced displacement. The loss of educational opportunities is perhaps the most significant effect, with long-term devastating outcomes. Additionally, the futures of Syrian girls are deeply affected by new protection concerns, particularly as they are exposed to an unfamiliar and more liberal society in Lebanon. Child marriage and limitations in their mobility – particularly for girls - are presented by families as coping strategies to these risks. Programming is needed to ensure sustained education access for all adolescents, and to educate very young adolescents and their parents on managing their own health and well-being, given the multiple strains. More effort is needed to encourage positive interaction between adolescent Lebanese and adolescent Syrian refugees.
DeJong et al. (2017) Conflict and Health, 11(Suppl 1):23