Syrians want jobs and a new chance - charity is not enough
In tiny Lebanon, one in five are Syrian refugees yet the whole of Europe has taken only 12,000
BEIRUT - Although charity for a huge number of Syrians has become a fact of life - it is the only thing keeping millions from starvation, homelessness and sickness - it is not necessarily what they want.
Most of the refugees or internally displaced left because their lives had been shattered. Their homes, families, businesses and everyday lives were torn apart, made impossible to put back together under the current circumstances.
"My home there [in Syria] is broken and I don't have any money," says Marwa, a teacher now living in Lebanon's impoverished Baalbek city. "I lost everything in my country. My aunt, my sisters and my mother died, and my brother has been missing for two years."
She bites her lip and pauses. "I have lived here for six months. But I don’t like Lebanon, it is lower than Syria in everything. I feel like a beggar."
This is a common sentiment among Syrian refugees here. Most are deeply unhappy that they have to live on meagre hand-outs and would far prefer to work and support themselves.
"They feel that what comes from others is charity, and they feel humiliated," says Massa, a Syrian aid worker. "They always ask where they can find jobs."
But there is very little work to go around, and the few jobs available are poorly paid. Even for those who make it to Turkey or a European gateway country, there is little help available.
In the EU, migrants are legally obliged to register in the first bloc member state they reach, but countries such as recession-ridden Italy - the first port of call for refugees who arrive by sea from Africa - are ill-suited to provide for asylum-seekers.
"They are not offering us things we left our country for — no jobs, no homes," one refugee, Abeer, is quoted as saying in a recent New York Times article. "They are sympathetic. But I didn’t leave Damascus to live like that. Poverty is as bad as war."
Syria's neighbours have done their best to deal with the consequences of a war they did not ask for. The numbers have become meaningless, so consider this: the Zaatari camp in Jordan has become the country's fourth biggest city since opening in July 2012, with a population at the last count of more than 130,000; in tiny Lebanon, one in five people are now Syrian refugees.
By contrast, Europe has taken in just 12,000 refugees - 0.5 percent of the 2.3 million who have fled Syria, according to Amnesty. Eighteen EU member states – including Britain – have offered no places at all.
The crisis has taken a huge toll on host countries' economies. The World Bank estimates that Lebanon's economy has lost $2.5 billion this year and will lose up to $3.9 billion next year. Unemployment in Lebanon is set to double to above 20 per cent. The strain on the country's already creaking infrastructure is enormous; electricity cuts and water shortages were already everyday occurrences before the influx of extra people began.
The peace conference scheduled for 22 January, dubbed Geneva II, is widely expected to change little on the ground. The impact of what is being called the worst humanitarian disaster since World War Two looks set to continue to be absorbed almost entirely by this troubled part of the world.
Money, clearly, is very much needed. The UN this week launched its biggest ever appeal for the Syrian crisis, saying it needs a whopping $6.5 billion. That's despite its last appeal for $4.4 billion being still just 60 per cent funded.
But there is something else Europe and other parts of the world can offer those affected by the Syrian civil war: a place to rebuild their lives.
“I would like to go to Europe, of course,” says Marwa. “At least there I could make my own life again.” ·