Lebanon is a country of 4 million people strained by the influx of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. More than five years into the crisis, Lebanon’s policy against formal refugee settlements has meant that many families are paying rent to live in makeshift housing. These unofficial settlements include warehouses, garages, tents and unfinished buildings. And without the right to work, these five years have left many of these families in debt. Desperation drives them to consider prostitution in exchange for rent or forcing their young daughters into early marriage to have one less mouth to feed.
This low dignity, low opportunity situation has created a need to give this vulnerable group of people a tool to help themselves. That’s where Relief International’s unconditional cash assistance program steps in. With support from the U.S. State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), RI provides $175 a month to 1,000 families identified by UNCHR’s database of vulnerability criteria in North Lebanon and West Bekaa.
The unconditional aspect of this program is essential – it stresses the importance of autonomy in a situation that can often feel out of control and frustrating for Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. And while their spending is trackable and monitored, data shows that cash recipients are using this money for rent, food and health care.
But this program is much more than handing people an ATM card. Equally important are the 15 communications hubs and 2 mobile communications units that provide support and information for over 90,000 households in refugee and host communities. People use these facilities to charge up their electronics and browse the internet, and while there they can also get information on health care and enrichment opportunities. They function almost like community centers, and the services offered include:
- Recreational activities for children
- Vocational training for adults in hair dressing, sewing, knitting and painting
- Skills training in English language, first aid and computer programs
- Health promotion workshops on breastfeeding, family planning, nutrition, hygiene and food safety
The BBC also produces and shares tailored content at these communication centers that mimic popular sitcoms, and viewings foster social cohesion.
Overall, this cash assistance program helps Syrian refugees maintain their dignity by prioritizing their own needs and deciding where to spend their funds.