Sabah, a 45-year-old Syrian refugee who has been living in Lebanon since 2013 under dire economic conditions, laments her worsening financial situation after the eruption of anti-government protests on Oct. 17.
Sabah has been supporting a family of four children by cleaning houses since her husband abandoned them. She couldn’t leave her house for 15 days after angry protesters took to Lebanon's streets, and demand for her services declined sharply since then.
She complained to Asharq AlAwsat that the landlord of her apartment in Beirut’s southern suburbs is now demanding the rent in dollars although she had been paying it in Lebanese pounds. “Knowing that it would increase the cost, I still tried to convert my pounds into dollars, but I was told that dollars are not readily available in the market.”
Food inflation has perhaps had the biggest impact on Sabah and tens of thousands of other Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Sabah explains that she and her family needed $100 a week before Lebanon’s revolution, “but today, even $140 are not enough. The United Nations, which used to allocate about $27 per person a month, has not been sending us money under the pretext of bank closures”.
Like many others, the woman hopes to relocate through the UN refugee agency, but places are limited. This has pushed many others, convinced that they will not be granted refugee status, to plan their return to Syria.
Adnan, 37, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he would return to Syria today if he weren’t owed money for construction work he had done. “The situation is distressing on all levels. It’s best to go back home despite the difficulty of the situation there.”
Many Lebanese hold Syrian refugees responsible for the country’s deteriorating economic situation.
“While there is a level of concern among displaced Syrians about the current situation in Lebanon, it is difficult at this stage to assess whether this will have a direct impact on the possible increase in the number of returnees to Syria,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abu Khaled.
A number of disputes between Lebanese citizens and displaced Syrians have been registered near ATMs. Many Lebanese complain that the refugees receive money, albeit in small amounts, from the UNHCR while they are unemployed and in need of financial assistance.
However, in the northeastern border town of Arsal, which hosts more Syrian refugees than any other Lebanese town, the displaced live in relative harmony with the locals even after Lebanon’s protest movement began, as confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat by the deputy head of Arsal municipality, Rima Karnbi.
She said a committee has been formed to facilitate the return of a large group of refugees from Arsal to the Syrian town of Qusair.