International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Layla’s story: Resilience in the face of adversity

By Rebecca Gang

BEIRUT, Lebanon—Layla’s* life changed forever in a single day. This time last year, her home outside Damascus was destroyed during fighting in the Syrian civil war; she lost her husband and two brothers. Layla was left with three young children ranging in age from eight to 12. Her first decision as a widowed mother was to take her children away from the war. Today, the family lives in Lebanon. Their story is an odyssey of desperation and pain, but ultimately resilience in the face of adversity.  

After crossing the mountains by foot into Lebanon, Layla and her children, two daughters and a son, lived under an overpass in a public park in Beirut. She had no money and no information on how to find help; she began begging on the streets to survive. Local police picked her up twice in three weeks, and since she had not entered Lebanon through a border crossing, they issued her a deportation order. When she then applied for a residency permit, she was arrested, held and fined. It was when she was in jail that the IRC first learned of her plight.

Since September of last year, when Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population began approaching one million, the IRC’s protection teams have made over 400 visits to more than 80 locations across Lebanon to ensure that refugees’ rights are protected, and that they have access to the information and services they require to survive. 

Our teams collect up-to-date information on what people need, what services are available to them, and how to ensure refugees can access the support they need. The IRC is a leader in utilizing the latest technology to gather and share this information. Our teams use tablets, mobile phones, and online data management and reporting systems to ensure that this vital information is collected, analyzed and distributed across the broad humanitarian network. 

Early this year we launched an SMS alert system that has already reached close to 90,000 refugees with mobile phone messages on health, education, food distribution, and registration with the U.N. We have sent out warnings about fraud and exploitation. Ensuring access to information enables refugees to take informed decisions and act according to their own priorities.

In Layla’s case, the IRC first arranged for legal aid to gain her release from detention. We referred the family to a local aid agency that provides them with food and household items, such as blankets and a heater. When our monitoring teams later discovered that Layla had been cut off from U.N. assistance, we helped her reapply. Though she still cannot afford to send her children to school, she is able to rent a modest apartment on the edge of Beirut with the restored aid.

It’s still hard for Layla to cope with the massive change in her circumstances. “We were not used to this back in our country, we had dignity.” she frequently repeats. “Here? We had two eggs and one piece of bread yesterday, but we still thank God for everything.”

Layla’s dream is to find a job that would allow her to provide for her family. A year after she fled Syria, her challenges remain immense, but Layla feels safer and she has hope. Through the care and support Layla has received from IRC’s protection teams, she has felt a small part of her dignity restored. For this one family, it’s a small but significant start in the face of an immeasurable crisis.

*Name changed for privacy.

Rebecca Gang works with refugees and those displaced around the world to ensure they receive the legal support and information they require to overcome the myriad challenges they face. As a protection and rule of law technical advisor, Rebecca travels extensively to the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan from her base in London at the IRC-UK

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1 comment


Great work! Please go on

Great work! Please go on doing whatever you can to support the Syrian people. They are really suffering so much especially children and women.