Syrian refugees in Lebanon:
Syrian refugees in Lebanon:
'A person who raises orphans will not be forgotten'
Despite the ailments that accompany old age and war, Aisha Barbar, 75, remains a feisty woman. Widowed more than twenty years ago, she raised 14 children on her own. “My husband died, leaving me alone with the children when I was young.” Reflecting for a moment, she adds, “Everything runs away from you but death.”
Fatima is one of the more than one million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon, according to the UN Refugee Agency, and among the nearly 5 million registered in the region at large.
“I had fourteen children, but four are now dead. I don’t know where the others are, only my daughter, Fatima,” Aisha says.
She thinks eight of her children are still in Syria, but she has had no contact with them. Her story is not uncommon. Families separated by the war, forced to flee -- sometimes in different directions -- can lose track of their loved ones.
“We came with nothing, as if we were barefoot”
“I came only with my daughter,” Aisha says. “We came with nothing, as if we were barefoot.” Aisha suffers from diabetes and credits the kindness of strangers for having supplied her with free medicine. “If I didn’t get it, I might be dead,” she says, speculatively.
When they arrived in Lebanon, they did not know where to go. “No one knew us. For six days, we ate only tomatoes and bread.”
She and Fatima, 40, share this small living space, a single room that might otherwise be used as a small shop front. They pay US$100 rent each month. Fatima begs for money at the local mosque. Dependent on charity, they never know if they will have enough. “If people are generous, we can buy food. But if they are not…” She shrugs.
Women like Fatima and Aisha are among the most vulnerable refugees, and more likely to be exposed to risk of exploitation and abuse because they are alone.
With assistance from CARE, and through a Government of Canada grant, Aisha now has a water filter and a rehabilitated toilet, separated from their living space by a curtain. CARE also supported them with a sink to provide better access to water. Before CARE installed the sink, the women washed their dishes in a bucket in the street. When they bathe themselves, they heat water on a small stove top.
“God was above us and we were directly under him”
This life is far from the dream of home and the life they once lived.
“In Syria, we had a big house and a farm. God was above us and we were directly under him,” Aisha says, reminiscing. “Our life was good. Then we came here, disgraced, not in a dignified way. We only wanted freedom, and we were killed off.”
A Lebanese neighbor, Wahiba, is visiting Aisha today. “I check on her. I like to visit. They have no one,” she says.
“Hopefully, things will improve,” Aisha says. “I was always strong and provided for my husband. I had 14 children. Every nine months I had one,” she laughs. But the laughter is fleeting. She sighs, and then adds: “But now we have no one. I sit here alone with four walls around me. This is all.”
“I raised orphans because my husband died so young. And God gave us good fortune. The person who raises orphans will not be forgotten.”
Mary Kate MacIsaac – Regional Syria Response Communications Coordinator