By Sofia Sacks Ferrari, Data Curator, UNHCR Global Data Service
The Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (VASyR), the most extensive assessment on refugees jointly conducted in Lebanon by UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP, and one of the only ones conducted face-to-face during the COVID-19 pandemic, has completed its eight round. The anonymized data of the latest version of this survey is now available for licensed use in UNHCR’s Microdata Library, the institutional secure online data repository providing access to microdata on forcibly displaced and stateless persons and their host communities. The 2020 version now complements a collection dating from 2016.
In the context of one of the largest concentrations of forcibly displaced population in the world, the latest VASyR from 2020 interviewed a statistically representative group of over 22,500 individuals in more than 4,500 Syrian refugee households with the aim of providing a multisectoral analysis with two main objectives.
- The first objective is to obtain information to provide immediate assistance to vulnerable populations by examining their economic situation, food security, living conditions, coping strategies, and access to services of refugee families.
- The second objective is to provide an overview of the protection status of Syrian refugees in Lebanon by gathering information on their basic rights, civil documentation, residency status among others.
The VASyR’s key findings show that the living conditions for Syrian refugees have deteriorated dramatically throughout 2020. Lebanon’s economic crisis as well as the impact of COVID-19 have brought thousands of families further into poverty and vulnerability: in 2020, 89% of the surveyed households’ income was below the Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket (SMEB) level, a significant increase of 34 percentage points compared to 2019, and the highest level compared to the previous years. Additionally, 92% of all households were in debt, mostly due to the need to fund food purchases. In spite of the increased borrowing to secure food, almost half of the Syrian refugees had unacceptable food consumption levels, and the share of households with a poor consumption level quadrupled compared to 2019 (19.5% in 2020 vs. 5% in 2019).
Finally, the survey shows that the rate of legal residency among the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon has continued to decline in 2020, creating a major protection challenge affecting the daily lives of refugees, as it impacts their ability to access services, and limits their movement and ability to access jobs. Only 20% of individuals over 15 years old reported having legal residency, compared to 22% in 2019 and 27% in 2018.
The VASyR survey series has not only served as a key programmatic tool but has long stimulated academic research to complement the institutional knowledge and analyses on the Syrian refugee response. The publication of the VASyR datasets on UNHCR’s Microdata Library attempts to further these collective efforts by increasing the opportunities for analyses performed outside of the UNHCR sphere. Examples are abundant and have a wide range of scopes, which complement and expand on UNHCR’s mainstream analyses.
Fouad et al. have used 2020 VASyR results to estimate the COVID-19 vulnerability for refugees when testing has not been widespread finding that mild increases in transmission among Syrian refugees could result in a large increase in the incidence and cumulative total number of infections in the absence of widespread testing.1 Based on the VASyR 2019 sample, Nabulsi et al have examined the coping strategies utilized by refugees in a context of increasing cost of living concluding that regardless of registration status, refugees resorted to informal livelihood strategies, including informal employment, child labor, early marriage, and accrual of debt.2 Fouad et al have analyzed the impact of vulnerability status over mental health finding providing an overview of tele-mental health alternatives in remote settings.3
Finally, de Hoop et al provide an evaluation of a cash transfer program –the No Lost Generation Programme (NLG) – on the school participation of displaced Syrian children in Lebanon, finding substantive impacts on school attendance among enrolled children, which increased by 0.5 days to 0.7 days per week based on VASyR 2016 data.4 These examples show that by increasing the opportunities for analysis, opening up data can deepen our knowledge, increase the evidence base to inform our decision-making, and, in turn, exponentially improve our understanding of the needs of the population we aim to serve, as stated by UNHCR’s Data Transformation Strategy.
Visit UNHCR’s Microdata Library and the VASyR data available here.
1 Fouad, F. M., McCall, S. J., Ayoub, H., Abu-Raddad, L. J., & Mumtaz, G. R. (2021). Vulnerability of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to COVID-19: quantitative insights. Conflict and Health, 15(1), 13.
2 Nabulsi, D., Ismail, H., Abou Hassan, F., Sacca, L., Honein-AbouHaidar, G., & Jomaa, L. (2020). Voices of the vulnerable: Exploring the livelihood strategies, coping mechanisms and their impact on food insecurity, health and access to health care among Syrian refugees in the Beqaa region of Lebanon. PLOS ONE, 15(12).
3 Fouad, F. M., Barkil-Oteo, A., & Diab, J. L. (2021). Mental Health in Lebanon’s Triple-Fold Crisis: The Case of Refugees and Vulnerable Groups in Times of COVID-19. Frontiers in Public Health, 8.
4 de Hoop, J., Morey, M., & Seidenfeld, D. (2019). No Lost Generation: Supporting the School Participation of Displaced Syrian Children in Lebanon. The Journal of Development Studies, 55(sup1), 107–127.