Born a Refugee

Born a Refugee

Publication info

Adel Sarkozi

Manal, who is 30 and a Syrian refugee, gave birth to a baby in Beirut, Lebanon two months ago. As she looks lovingly at him, she says she never thought that her first baby would be born as a refugee.

Although Manal is grateful she could give birth in a health center in Beirut, she is worried about her child's health.

"My baby hasn't been vaccinated. He was sick and I went to the clinic but they asked me to pay. How could I? I had to turn back."

When Manal's husband could not find work and rent prices went up, life in Beirut became increasingly difficult. The family decided to move to an informal camp, about 25 miles south of Beirut. They knew another family in the camp and stayed with them until they got their own tent. Now, they are one of 33 families living in an olive grove in blue and white tents and temporary shelters raised on rocky terraces.

The family feels less isolated here than in Beirut, and the refugees help each other. But Manal is concerned about her baby's health, especially with the onset of the summer months.

"He is suffering from rashes, and the heat, and there are a lot of insects here. I have no baby food for him or medication. Often I boil rice, and when we finish eating it, the water I used to boil the rice in is our next meal," she says. "I have also been sick, but can't afford the doctor. I have no sanitary napkins."

She feels helpless, she says, as she keeps fanning her child inside the tent, which leaks when it rains.

Manal is not alone with her concerns. In Mazboud, Lebanon, Ralia, 27, was due to give birth in eight days when we saw her at the beginning of June. Her baby will be raised in a school where 37 refugee families have been seeking shelter. The first children he will get to know and play with will also be refugees. And in Amman, Jordan, we met Nada, also 27, who is raising her four children, including an 18-month-old son alone. Her husband is trapped in Syria and has been unable to join them.

"Since yesterday, I have no milk. I have to give him whatever we are eating. Often we can eat only once a day. The rent is just too high."

Under her long, black headscarf, Nada's face is pale and her eyes are red and heavy. Often, she feels uneasy to venture out by herself.

"I am scared," she says. "I went a few times to ask for assistance. But I am ashamed; I have never had to queue up before asking, begging for help."

She sleeps with her children in one windowless room in the basement on the bare floor, as there are not enough mattresses. "I am not used to this," she says shaking her head, looking around her. "I want everything to calm down so that we can go back. I want my life back."

Manal, 30, lives in a refugee camp with her husband and 3-month-old baby, who has not received his vaccinations and is suffering from allergies. © 2013 Adel Sarkozi/CARE