Gloomy days for Syrian refugees; 24% think about ending their own lives

Gloomy days for Syrian refugees; 24% think about ending their own lives
Sat Jul 12, 2014 17:39:26

Young Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living in tragic conditions. This is what a study of young people affected by the Syrian crisis in Lebanon has concluded, with 17 percent of young refugees having thought “often” about suicide, and 24 percent having thought about ending their own lives “sometimes.”

Forty-one percent of young Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought about suicide at one time, according to the Situation Analysis of Youth in Lebanon Affected by the Syrian Crisis, a study released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and prepared in collaboration with UNICEF, UNESCO, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Save the Children International. Ironically perhaps, the findings of the study were published on the day celebrated as the World Population Day, whose theme this year is “Investing in Young People.”

The study highlights just how fragile the refugees’ conditions are at all levels, in healthcare, education, social and psychological well-being, and their livelihoods and economic situation.

Of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, 185,000 are aged 15 to 25, according to United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon Ross Mountain. Mountain said that these youths’ isolation from social safety nets, the interruption of their education, and their lack of access to health, psychological, and social services could cause and promote dangerous behaviors among young people, including sex-related violence, exploitation, or trafficking.

Unfortunately, the majority of these young people are forced to take on adult roles prematurely because of their circumstances. According to the study, more than half of the young refugees said that increased family responsibilities forced on them because of their tough economic conditions are pushing them to work for low wages. The average monthly wage for young refugee workers, who account for 22 percent of total young refugees, is L.L. 379,000 (~$252), or 56 percent of the minimum wage in the country, while female refugees earn about 30 percent less than their male counterparts.

The study also shows that the majority of workers are employed in seasonal jobs in the agricultural sector or artisanal manufacturing, while only 6 percent of them had attended vocational training courses. The young workers said that asking assistance from acquaintances was the most effective way to find work.

Concerning unemployed youths, 90 percent said they were looking for employment and would accept any wage for any work, while 80 percent said they were willing to do a job that did not suit their qualifications.

Mountain said there were widespread cases of sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse among young refugees. Quoting a young Syrian woman working in farming in the Bekaa Valley as one example, he said that she was not allowed breaks or given water to drink while working for more than 15 hours, unless she agreed to “inappropriate” requests.

The most serious finding of the study, however, has to do with the psychological state of young refugees: 89 percent expressed their despair of their reality, saying that anxiety and fear describe what they feel most of the time. Meanwhile, 17 percent of young refugees have thought “often” about suicide, while 24 percent thought about it “sometimes.”

Abuse and mistreatment do not affect young women alone, as 50 percent of young refugees said they never felt safe during their stay in Lebanon, identifying the causes as the lack of security in general, fear of sexual and physical abuse, and measures by local and municipal authorities or political parties. A third of young refugees feel they need to be escorted when leaving home during the day, especially since half of reported physical or sexual abuse cases had taken place on the streets.

It is worth mentioning that young refugees usually avoid drawing attention to themselves, always according to the study’s findings. They feel that the Lebanese treat them with condescension, which they explain on account of the difficult economic situation in Lebanon. But because of this, less than a third of the refugees have Lebanese friends.

The study indicates that young Lebanese people have prejudices against or are intimidated by the refugees individually as well as collectively, mainly because of their numbers, the duration of their stay, and previous experiences with them. Though there is sympathy with the refugees, the study mentions that most if not all instances of sympathy come from young women, though the health situation and living conditions of the young refugees should elicit sympathy from young women and men alike.

Indeed, 30 percent of young refugees reside in unfinished buildings or places that were not designed for residence, i.e. lacking in basic services. For example, 24 percent of young refugees live in accommodations with no toilets, and 21 percent in accommodations with no kitchens. On average, 8 young refugees have to share the same accommodation. Although the main sources of income for the refugees are their low wages and aid, the study indicates that 85 percent of refugee families have to pay monthly rents.

Meanwhile, the study points out that the average marriage age has dropped to 17 among young women and 20 among young men, with 46 percent of young women and 11 percent of young men being now married. The study shows that 90 percent of young people believe that sex outside is marriage is unacceptable. In other words, the drop in the average marriage age may have to do with their desire to engage in “lawful” sexual intercourse as well.

However, the majority of young refugees are not familiar with the requirements of reproductive health arising from marriage; 55 percent of young people have no knowledge of contraception, including 18 percent who are married. This is while 41 percent of young married people had not planned to get pregnant in Lebanon. Furthermore, the family is considered the primary source of information on reproductive health for young refugees: 45 percent felt that the family is the primary source, 10 percent mentioned relatives, and 19 percent mentioned friends as their main source of information on reproductive health.

Interestingly as well, most young people expressed their desire to have children, which they said is “important and necessary,” while 46 percent of young married couples said they were planning to have children, and 39 percent of young people said all methods of contraception were unlawful.


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