Amar is a Stateless Child: A Visit with Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Amar is a Stateless Child: A Visit with Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

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Alan Seelinger

I recently met a young child I’ll never forget. Her name is Amar. To me she represents both the tragedy and the hope of Syrian refugees who have fled their homes in search of a better life.

As one of several CARE staff visiting our work with Syrian refugees, I met families who left their homeland and resettled in neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. Some live in the refugee camps you may have seen on the news – places like Azraq in Jordan, a pop-up city of white aluminum shelters in neat rows that stretch to the desert horizon. Many Syrian refugees, however, have moved to urban areas – places like Beirut or Tripoli in Lebanon.

Amar’s family lives in the town of Miryata in northern Lebanon, less than 25 miles from the Syrian border. The town has absorbed more than its share of refugees, with a third of its residents now being Syrian refugees. Relations with the host community are increasingly strained.

Amar’s mother, Fatma, told me that their family of seven left Syria four years ago, just after the start of the conflict. Amar was born afterward in Lebanon. As Fatma spoke about the obstacles they’ve faced, I felt heartbroken at their pain and amazed by their resilience.

We sat in a circle in the family’s home, which was nothing more than a 12-by-12-foot room with a few mattresses on the floor, tucked against the canvas walls of the tent. A few decorations adorned one corner, including some red roses and white hydrangea blooms in a vase next to two small white teddy bears, each holding a heart. The arrangement seemed careful and determined – a kind of emblem of dignity placed there as a reminder of innocence, beauty and love.

Fatma wasted no time providing details about their life in Miryata. The lot where her family and about 100 others live is in a residential part of town, has only two working outhouses, and the property owner charges $200 a month for each tent. To make matters worse, a new regulation imposes a residency fee of $200 per person over age 15 every six months – on top of strict employment prohibitions for refugees. To help, CARE provides refugees with cash vouchers so they can buy food or pay rent, and advocates with local authorities for more flexible rules, such as allowing income-earning opportunities for refugees.

Health and sanitation are challenges, too. Fatma told us the water isn’t safe to drink and her children often suffer from skin conditions like scabies. She shared stories about how many refugee children are refused admission into the classroom. There was a palpable sense of frustration and despair. It was good to learn that CARE works in towns like Miryata to improve water supply and sanitation infrastructure for refugees as well as host communities.

The challenge I remember most, though, is the simple fact that Fatima’s baby girl, Amar, does not have a country. Between Syria’s policy against conferring citizenship to children born to refugees and her host country’s refusal to bestow a Lebanese passport, Amar has no nationality. She is a stateless child with no clear path to a future.

Even so, Amar kept playing and grinning, unaware of the forces that might curtail her rights for many years to come.

As Fatma watched, there was a strange sense of calm in her eyes – a steadfast certainty that things will get better. Let’s hope that day comes soon.