International Rescue Committee (IRC)

IRC launches support for Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Already helping thousands of refugees in Jordan and Iraq, the International Rescue Committee is launching humanitarian assistance programs in Lebanon for the growing number of Syrian refugees here.

The IRC has opened its first of four centers for women and girls. The centers are designed to provide safe spaces for women who have fled Syria’s civil war and for any other women in need.  The first center is located in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and there are plans to open three more in areas where large numbers of Syrian refugees have settled.

More than 100,000 refugees have registered for aid in Lebanon with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), but tens of thousands more may not yet have been counted, so the true number may be substantially higher. As in nearby Jordan, the vast majority of refugees in Lebanon don’t live in refugee camps. Many have found shelter in apartment buildings, which makes it more difficult to both count them and provide aid.

The humanitarian needs here are immense. Two emergency assessments the IRC conducted this year in Lebanon found major gaps in assistance. As with the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who’ve fled to Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, most of those in Lebanon crossed the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs, small amounts of cash and jewelry. Most refugees have run out of money, sold their jewelry and are going into debt by taking out loans many have little hope of ever repaying.  

The needs are particularly acute for women. “Many women here have emotional scars from their harrowing experiences in Syria,” says Muriel Tschopp, who is coordinating the IRC’s efforts in Lebanon. “Couple that emotional trauma with the fact that most struggle every day to pay for food, housing and medical care, and you can see it’s a dire situation.”

Staffed by caseworkers and counselors, the IRC’s centers will provide support groups in which women and girls can share experiences and knowledge and work though emotional trauma together. They will offer a safe and confidential space where survivors of sexual assault and abuse can access specialized care and referrals.  IRC staff will also work with women, girls and the communities in which they live to identify conditions that could put them at higher risk of violence — such as overcrowding or lack of lighting at night — and find ways to mitigate them. In situations where women and girls can’t get to the centers, mobile teams will travel to their locations to meet with them.

Additionally, the IRC will distribute emergency supplies to thousands of women in need. These include shawls, underwear, socks, sanitary pads and other items that will make the transition to life in Lebanon a bit easier, especially as winter approaches.  The IRC is also planning to provide financial support to help families pay for stoves and fuel during winter.

“We’re taking a holistic approach to supporting Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” says the IRC’s Tschopp.  “The needs will still be immense, but the IRC is providing direct support that is tailored for women and girls during a crisis in which their specific needs are easily overlooked.”

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