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February 02, 2018

Mission trip to Lebanon highlights how cash assistance is saving lives

An informal refugee settlement in Lebanon.

Last week, USA for UNHCR’s Director of Digital Marketing, Rami Azzam, traveled to Lebanon and saw firsthand how donations to USA for UNHCR are making a direct impact on the lives of Syrian refugees. Here is his account from the informal refugee settlement that he visited.

Under the shadow of the archeological site of a 17th century fort, lies the informal refugee settlement of Qarna’oun, outside Tripoli, Lebanon. Home to 20 families—94 people total—the settlement is made up of plots of land rented from a private landowner.

Even though the refugees in the settlement pay rent, Lebanese law dictates that the structures these families build cannot be permanent. They cannot use bricks or cement to create their homes, so instead they resort to wood and metal sheeting. Despite this, the shelters are sturdy and their homes are comfortable and warm. In them, children play and adults gather around UNHCR-provided stoves. 

Only a third of the residents of Qarna’oun are able to find work, bringing in less than $18 per day. The rest have trouble supporting themselves and their families, often falling months behind on their rent. 

Ibrahim is one of the refugees here who is struggling to make ends meet. Like most residents of Qarna’oun, he and his family are from Idlib, a Syrian city now overtaken by violence. They have been living in Qarna’oun for five years. 

In addition to supporting his wife, three children, and disabled father and brother, Ibrahim is severely asthmatic and has a number of medical expenses. Despite his medical condition, Ibrahim finds “day work” when he can; but he is barely able to makes enough.

A Syrian refugee family gathers in their home at an informal settlement in Lebanon.

His family’s lifeline is the $75 per month in winter cash assistance they receive from UNHCR. They use this money to buy rice, ghi, fuel and other food supplies.

“If it was not for the assistance we receive from UNHCR, I would have no choice but to take my family back to Idlib under the bombs.”

The UNHCR cash assistance program in Lebanon is severely underfunded. Only a third of families categorized as “extremely vulnerable” receive cash assistance, which amounts to $175. Like Ibrahim’s family, thousands more are considered “vulnerable” and are not eligible to receive UNHCR’s multipurpose cash assistance. The small winter assistance they receive during the cold season is a fleeting source of comfort.

Despite the difficulties he faces, Ibrahim is grateful for what he has. He has a warm home and three smiling children. Thanks to donations to USA for UNHCR, his most basic needs are met. But Ibrahim and his family deserve more than to just survive; they deserve a chance at a fresh start in life.

UNHCR’s humanitarian efforts in Lebanon are extremely effective, however, they are only 55% funded. You can help provide cash assistance for families like Ibrahim’s by becoming a monthly donor today. Your monthly donation will provide the stable support families like Ibrahim’s rely on to survive.