Since the beginning of war in their country, most Syrians who sought refuge in Lebanon, went through drastic changes in their lives. From abandoning their houses, becoming refugees in new countries, and facing discrimination, to suffering from an economic crisis and now a global pandemic. Somehow, these Syrian families did not get the chance, throughout the past nine years, to catch their breath. The COVID-19 outbreak is taking its toll on the world’s richest countries; countries whose communities have access to health care, whose people have proper housing conditions, and are able to nourish their children. But how are refugees coping knowing that the lives of the people on the move are already challenging?
Food insecurities in times of COVID-19
Ziad, 37, and Fatima, 38, live with their five children in an informal tented settlement (ITS) in Bekaa. They came to Lebanon seven years ago after the war shattered their home in Syria.
They are receiving food assistance, and the kids are attending the community focused psycho-social support (PSS) sessions with World Vision. The kids get excited when attending the sessions "they enjoy it a lot", Fatima admits. But sadly it is not enough. Ziad did not work for almost four months now. He used to be a tailor. With the prices going high, their consumption of everything, even the essentials, became low. They are barely making it to the end of the month. All the prices doubled because of the economic crisis and now the spread of COVID19. Ziad explains "our bills are stacking from tent rent to electricity, and we have no idea how to pay". The market in the settlement used to allow them to buy groceries and not pay, but given the new circumstances, no one is accepting to lend anything anymore. In addition to the high bill they already have unpaid, they won't be able to pay any additional fees anytime soon.
Not being able to afford buying food left this family’s children eating two meals per day instead of three.
A virus scarier than bombings
As for the parents, Ziad has been home for four months. Four months now, the father is home, “I am no longer used to sunlight anymore,” he admits. The government has enforced lockdown measures in Lebanon with strict movement regulations from and within informal tented settlements. "Everyone is afraid to die from coronavirus," says Ziad, "they go outside only to get their groceries or get medication and come straight home". Fatima is scared of taking her little son to the doctor. “Seven years in Lebanon and this is by far the toughest phase. I still recall the bombing in Syria and how scared it was, but you can hear the explosion and run away from it, but this virus is unseen and unheard, it is like an invisible weapon.”
At first, no one took the pandemic crisis seriously, but when the municipality started implementing strict measures about hygiene and complete lockdown, they understood how bad it is.
Fatima says, "I am faithful, I believe once the Corona is over, we can always find a way to move forward and stand back on our feet. At night, you feel that the world has stopped, there is not a single soul out there," she continues, "the government is being stern regarding the curfew and the lockdown because we are all aware of the fact that if anyone catches it, everyone will get it".
The fear of a domino effect
Coming from Syria, Ahmad 38 and Dalia 35 thought that they were fleeing the war for a better future. Little did they know that their life will be even harder. With five mouths to feed, the parents often find themselves hopeless and incapable of fulfilling their children’s smallest needs.
Ahmad has been home for a year now, he used to paint houses, but now he cannot find any job. Although they are getting the food assistance, like several other families, it's barely enough because of the prices that doubled since the beginning of the economic crisis that hit Lebanon. "We stopped giving Fatima milk, and she's not one yet because the milk is super expensive now," Dalia explains, "I had to start feeding her solid food". The bills are accumulating and they won't be able to pay the electricity bill nor the rent for the second month in a row. "We can hardly meet our needs," Ahmad says with a bittersweet voice.
For them, there is no place like home, and eventually, they want to go back to Syria. "We will go back to our country one day, there is nowhere more precious than a person's own home country and land.
When it comes to Corona, the parents are taking it very seriously. The kids are always inside the tent. Ahmad spends his day guarding the door. "We are barely living now, can you imagine getting sick as well? It will be more humiliating for us, we cannot afford it at all,” he explains, “It is not fake news, why disregard it and undervalue the situation? All we see is the impact of coronavirus on the first world countries with strong health systems. Thousands of people are dying there, can you imagine what will happen here if we do not take this seriously? We are not willing to underestimate the situation at any costs".
He adds, "If one person catches it, we are all doomed".
This global pandemic is affecting everyone; despite their nationalities, religion, gender, race, social status, it does not matter. But for some, the need and the gap is more significant and more robust than others. In Syrian refugee communities in Lebanon, the concern is the Domino effect. If by any chance one individual was affected by the disease, there are no means for self-isolation he or she cannot afford to go to the doctor, receive hospitalization or even buy medication. Adding to this, the severe socio-economic crisis in Lebanon. All of these are factors which will create the most vulnerable way of living for the most vulnerable people.