Imagine living with three other families in a house with only two rooms, a toilet and a kitchen. Due to space constraints, children are forced to sleep along the five-foot way, exposing themselves to danger and unpredictable weather conditions.
Food is also scarce and people go to sleep hungry. Many inhabitants suffer from chronic illness such as depression, anxiety and distress.
Making matters worse are the routine water and electricity cuts. Electricity installations are done in a slipshod manner where high voltage cables are tied together to water pipes.
While these may sound like elements from Gary Ross’s fictional movie The Hunger Games, in reality, this is the living condition of Palestinian refugees from Syria who reside in Lebanon.
Since their expulsion from Palestine in 1948, these stateless people dwell in extremely bleak conditions, having to worry about money, putting food on the table and providing a better quality of life for their children.
Moved by their plight, the Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI) aims to raise funds for Palestinian refugee children in Lebanon.
There are four ways to sponsor a child: RM1,640 (yearly), RM820 (half-yearly), RM410 (quarterly) or RM137 (monthly). MSRI partners with the National Institution for Social Care and Vocational Training in Beirut, which works with 10 Palestinian refugee camps throughout the country. Money collected will be channelled towards children’s education, food and medical assistance.
MSRI executive director Lia Syed says while these displaced people have been in Lebanon for over five decades, they remain excluded from the country’s social, political and economic benefits.
“There is great strain on services such as housing, electricity and water, which are insufficient to cover the needs of these stateless people. Wages have deteriorated because of stiffer competition, resulting in emigrants earning very little salary,” says Lia about this particular situation at a talk in Kuala Lumpur.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency For Palestine Refugees In The Near East (UNRWA) reports that as of 2011, there are over 280,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Half of the population are below 25 years old. About 62% live in camps while others reside in slums throughout Lebanon.
“There’s overcrowding and humidity issues, due to lack of sunlight in these camps. A third of camp inhabitants suffer from chronic diseases. Potable water remains a big problem, as well as sanitation,” adds Lia.
The website (anera.org) of development organisation ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid) reports only 6% of Palestinian refugee children between the ages of 15 and 18 are in school.
“The number of dropouts is increasing yearly due to the deteriorating financial situation among the Palestinian community. This leads to a domino effect where child labour increases and children lose their right to education as they need to help support their families,” Lia explains.
These children become street kids and earn a living as shoe-shine boys, selling flowers and food. Many are robbed of their childhood and turn to prostitution, the highest-paid occupation among child labour kids.
According to The Guardian article Adults Before Their Time, Syria’s Refugee Children Toil In The Fields Of Lebanon, thousands of exiled children have become farm labourers in vegetable fields and warehouses. Instead of being in school, these kids are exposed to toxic chemicals, pesticides and exhausting long hours.
With winter just around the corner, Lia is concerned about the impact of freezing weather conditions especially on street kids and families who have minimal assistance to brave through the cold months.
Anera’s 2013 report A Needs Assessment: Palestinian Refugees From Syria In Lebanon states that 51% of families do not have a heater in their shelters. The majority of those who do have gas heaters are unable to operate them because they lack access to fuel.
“The winters can be very unforgiving especially for families without blankets, electric heaters and clothing vouchers. We are now in the end of October and it will be only weeks when refugees have to brace for the colder months. These children are facing a critical situation and need financial assistance to help them live comfortably and feel they are part of humanity,” she appeals.
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