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Unmarried and separated Syrian refugee men in Lebanon struggle to get aid, face exploitation and feel ‘less of a man’ study finds

Last updated 
  • False assumptions & restricted movement prevents aid reaching vulnerable men
  • Fewer than 1 in 10 received aid in previous month, 88% had restricted their movement

A new survey has revealed that unmarried and separated Syrian refugee men struggle to access aid in Lebanon due to a combination of mistaken assumptions about their level of need and eligibility to receive support, as well as self-imposed restrictions on movement. The majority of Syrian refugees heading to Europe in 2015 were men without families, showing one consequence of overlooking the needs of vulnerable male refugees.

The survey of nearly 500 unmarried and separated Syrian refugee men across Lebanon carried out by the International Rescue Committee also revealed close to a fifth experienced exploitation as well as highlighting the extent their situation has made them feel ‘less of a man’.

The survey found fewer than one in ten had received any aid in the previous month while a fifth had not received enough food to eat during that time. Nearly a third of unregistered single male Syrian refugees believed they were ineligible to register with the UN because they were not married with children. In addition, nine out of ten interviewed (88%) reported limiting their movements in an attempt to reduce the threat of personal harm, with more than half restricting their movement at night and more than a quarter at all times.

Evidence from the IRC survey also does not support the current assumption that refugee men become less vulnerable once they are able to find work. The survey revealed nearly a fifth of unmarried and separated Syrian refugee men in Lebanon will face some form of exploitation and nearly half of this will be linked to exploitation at work.

The survey additionally uncovered how 60% of unmarried and separated Syrian refugee men said they felt like less of a man since becoming a refugee, with a quarter saying they now have no or very limited ability to stand up for themselves when treated unfairly, and a fifth that they have no or very limited ability to refuse demands they disagreed with. One 22-year-old male and single Syrian refugee told the IRC: “I can do nothing, I have nothing, I am worth nothing. This makes me approximately zero.”

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said: “Young men often get a bad rep, sometimes for good reason, but this report shows many male refugees to be vulnerable and in need of help. Many struggle to access the support they need and it shouldn’t be surprising that young Syrian refugees are increasingly giving up on trying to find a life worth living in the middle east and instead heading to Europe.

“It is particularly troubling that many do not believe they are eligible to register with the UN in order to access aid in the first place. For those who do manage to receive aid it sometimes proves useless, including raw grain given to young men who haven’t learnt how to cook. The survey also shows the dramatic impact being a refugee has on single Syrian men, including keeping them from having the confidence to stand up for themselves, which leaves them particularly at risk of abuse and exploitation as they do not feel able to complain or seek justice.

“Their attempts to keep themselves safe dramatically hinder their ability to move freely enough to access aid and services like health care. This evidence shows we must rethink male vulnerability and urgently act to meet the needs of all refugees.”

Case study 

One 34-year old unmarried Syrian refugee man living on the outskirts of Sidon in southern Lebanon described to the IRC the difficulties he faces:

"All aid goes to families. No one is looking out for us, or asking what we need. We don’t get treated as refugees. I live alone. If I lived with other Syrians it would mean competition for me to find work.

“My residency visa expired in July. I can’t move freely now. I’m afraid to go to places where I might be asked to show my papers. That’s the reason I stay in this village. There are no checkpoints here. I’m worried that if I was stopped at a checkpoint I would be deported back to Syria.

“For the past year I’ve lived alone in the basement of a home. I pay rent and work on the garden that’s all. I’m not paid for that work. I’d be afraid to ask for money for the work I do in case the landlord asks me to leave. There are lots of other Syrians looking for somewhere to stay.

“There are men in the village who treat me badly. They call me bad names. Sometimes they call me a terrorist or that I’m with or against one side or the other. But there is nothing I can do. They know I can’t go to the police to complain. They know no one can protect me. Life gets harder and harder every day in Lebanon. The only solution is to leave and go to Europe."

Main report findings

Restricted movement and lack of aid 

  • In order to protect themselves from physical harm, 88% of unmarried and separated Syrian refugee men reported limiting their movements.  
  • 59% would limit their movement at night and 29% at all times.  
  • Fewer than 1 in ten men surveyed had received assistance in the 30 days. 
  • 21% had not had enough food to eat  
  • 11% could not find a safe place to sleep during the previous 30 days  
  • 53% of unmarried and separated Syrian refugee men respondents surveyed were not registered with UNHCR. To explain their lack of registration with UNHCR, 30% believed unmarried men are automatically ineligible, 19% were not able to access a centre, and 8% believed they would not get aid even if registered. 

Exploitation and abuse 

  • Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) reported being exploited in some way, and of these 43% had been exploited more than once.  
  • The vast majority of this exploitation involved financial loss (87%), 40% of those exploited had their wages withheld), 29% of cases involved physical harm and 16% involved both. 

Negative impact on sense of masculinity 

  • 60% said being a refugee had made them feel less of a man 
  • 25% said they have no or very limited ability of standing up for themselves when treated unfairly, and a 20% said they have no or very limited ability to refuse demands they disagree with  
  • 34% rarely or never had the chance to talk about their feelings.
About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.