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Syrians surviving in Lebanon – thanks to cash assistance

Khalid and two of his children. © European Union/ECHO/Caroline Gluck

As the conflict in Syria drags on, life for Syrian refugees in Lebanon continues to become increasingly harsh. Lebanon hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees – around one in four of its current population. With severe restrictions in accessing the labour market, Syrian refugee households are getting deeper into debt and finding it hard to access food and other basics. Preliminary findings of a UN report found that the number of refugee households living below the poverty line had almost doubled in the past year. EU humanitarian aid helps to support the ‘Lebanon cash consortium’ – a group of six humanitarian partners, including ACTED – to provide multi-purpose cash assistance to severely socio-economically vulnerable families.

Caroline Gluck, former Regional Information Officer for the Middle East, ECHO @ECHO_MiddleEast

Syrian refugee and father-of-five, Khalid, lives with his family in the densely populated Palestinian camp of Shatila, in southern Beirut, Lebanon. His family moved to their first floor two-room apartment one month ago.

It’s a blessing from God,” said Khalid, referring to the multi-purpose cash assistance that his family has been receiving for the past few months, distributed by ACTED with EU funds. The aid has allowed his family to move into their new apartment, leaving behind a run-down one room apartment, with a leaking roof.

His new home is hardly palatial – there are no glass windows, just some plastic and mosquito netting partially covering the frames, electricity is intermittent and it is damp – but, he says, there is more room for the children and there is also no leaking water raining down on the family and their bedding.

The cash has also helped Khalid pay back some of the debts the family had racked up, in order to survive and feed the family.

We were on the brink of disaster until this help came. Now, I’m so happy…humanitarian aid is saving our lives” - Khalid.

Khalid’s family is one of 14 500 households in Lebanon to benefit from monthly cash payments of nearly 175 US dollars (approximately €160) under the ‘Lebanon cash consortium’ programme.

The densely populated Shatila refugee camp in southern Beirut, Lebanon. © European Union/ECHO/Caroline Gluck

Families are free to decide how they use the cash assistance.Most, like Khalid, spend it on rent, paying off debts, and food.

Every month was such a worry,” said Amira, his wife. “It was always a challenge and a cause of frustration not knowing how to pay our bills and where to get food. We still only eat two meals a day, but now we can afford to buy other things apart from lentils and beans; we have more diversity in our diet”.

Khalid, who worked as a butcher in Syria, says his inability to find any regular work is a source of frustration. His son, 13-year-old Mahmoud, who has been out of school for three years, helps with the family finances, earning around €18 each week working in a shop.

Khalid is not happy keeping his son out of school.With the extra cash help he is now receiving, he says he hopes to send Mahmoud back to school to join his three siblings.

For families like Khalid, the multi-purpose cash assistance programme is a big lifeline. But ACTED’s Programme Manager, Karim Traboulsi, says it is not a long-term solution:

Multi-purpose cash assistance is a highly cost effective modality for delivering basic assistance."

Khalid and his family © European Union/ECHO/Caroline Gluck

"Families receiving aid are extremely vulnerable, living below the poverty line in Lebanon of less than €3.5 a day. But there needs to be a sustainable and durable solution. Multi-purpose cash assistance right now is the sole safety net for a lot of people. But at the end of the day, it’s quite clear that programmes that promote self-reliance will be the only way for people to graduate from beyond being cash beneficiaries.”

Until that happens, EU-funded cash programmes will continue to play a key role in helping some of the poorest Syrian refugee families survive.