Cash Assistance Offers Independence for Syrian Refugees and Lebanese Hosts

In the rural Lebanese village of Sawfar, Salim Abi el Mouna struggled to support his family doing odd jobs and any other work he could get. Today, the 54-year-old Lebanese father of three can pay his rent and buy food, and has even sent his daughter to university.

The Abi el Mouna family was among the 625 households enrolled in Relief International’s cash assistance program, which delivered monthly payments of $175 to highly vulnerable Syrian refugees and financially disadvantaged Lebanese families. With funding from UNOCHA’s Lebanon Humanitarian Fund (LHF), Relief International provided this assistance in some of the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas of Lebanon, such as the central regions of Bekaa and Mount Lebanon, which have welcomed large numbers of refugees. Sawfar, in the Mount Lebanon region, lies on the main road to Damascus.

More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population now consists of Syrian refugees, giving the country the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the Middle East. The majority of these refugee families have settled in regions that were already economically fragile, causing increased pressure on host families. Many Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese in these areas lack the most basic life necessities: a dependable source of food, shelter and access to health care and education.

More than 70 percent of Lebanon’s Syrian refugee families fall below the poverty line. Facing hunger and hopelessness in a foreign country, many of these vulnerable families have been forced to cut back on meals, or send their children to work or into early marriage.  Only 3 percent of Syrian refugee children under age two are eating the minimum acceptable diet. Roughly 1 million Lebanese currently live below the poverty line, and 10 percent are extremely poor, living on less than $2.40 per day. 

RI’s cash assistance program worked with 531 Syrian households and 94 Lebanese households. The program ran from July 2016 through March 2017, ensuring coverage during the winter months, which can be filled with snow in some parts of Lebanon. To identify recipients, RI partnered with international agencies including UNHCR and with local organizations such as Lebanon’s National Poverty Targeting Program (NPTP), the Government of Lebanon (GOL) and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA).

Most of the families used the cash for rent, food and health services. By empowering vulnerable Syrian refugees and Lebanese with purchasing power, RI helps decrease their economic vulnerability — and increase their security and dignity. That power lets them plan for the future. Like Mr. Abi el Mouna’s daughter, Nancy, who is now studying sociology.