UNHCR and its partners continue to work to provide refugees with minimum shelter standards to preserve their lives and dignity. This is made possible thanks to the generous contributions of donors like the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD).
BEIRUT, Lebanon, 20 January 2017 (UNHCR) – Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, over one million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon. More than half of them live in inadequate shelters, such as tents, garages, unfinished buildings and overcrowded apartments. These substandard conditions make it difficult to weather storms and survive the cold winter months. UNHCR and its partners continue to work to provide refugees with minimum shelter standards to preserve their lives and dignity. This is made possible thanks to the generous contributions of donors like the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD).
After fleeing their home in Daraa, Syria, four years ago, Karim, his wife Buthaina and their kids rented an apartment in Aley, Mount Lebanon. But with exorbitant rent and deplorable shelter conditions, the family was forced to change apartments three times before settling in their current home.
Karim works in construction, but during the cold, rainy winter months, finding job opportunities becomes increasingly hard. “We cannot afford to do the repairs needed in the house; we can barely save money for rent,” the Syrian refugee said.
“It is very cold this time of year in Aley,” a city uphill from Beirut where it usually snows in winter, Buthaina said. To protect the house from the strong wind, the woman had replaced the broken glass in the apartment with plastic bags and duct tape. But the temporary repairs were too meager to keep the family warm amid plummeting temperatures.
Thanks to funding from SFD and through its partner Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF), UNHCR was able to conduct repairs at the apartment. The rehabilitation works, which lasted one month, included, among others, repairing or replacing the broken glass and doors and installing power outlets.
“After the windows were fixed, the wind does not blow in the house anymore,” the refugee confirmed.
The family recently received a new contract from the landlord ensuring them rent freeze for a certain period in exchange for the repair works carried out. Thanks to the rehabilitation of the apartment, not only will the refugee parents be able to raise their children in a safer environment, but they will also rest assured that the family will have a roof over their heads for a while.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in precarious shelter conditions, and over half of them reside in sub-standard dwellings, suffering from overcrowding and dangerous structural conditions or urgently needed repairs. Many are also at risk of eviction, as refugees’ resources are dwindling six years into the crisis, reducing thus their ability to afford lease agreements.
UNHCR’s shelter programme aims at bringing housing conditions to a minimum standard that would allow for a dignified living, by ensuring refugees’ protection from the elements, securing their privacy, removing health hazards, and improving their access to water and sanitation facilities. Rehabilitation works are typically implemented in exchange for an agreed period of free, freezed or reduced rent, as this creates greater security of tenure and reduces rental expenditure.
One-year-old Ahmad’s parents, Anwar and Fatima, fled their home in Idlib immediately after the onset of the war and were displaced from one town to another inside Syria before they were forced to find refuge in Lebanon in 2013. Two years later, they settled down in an unfinished apartment.
As winter drew near, they covered the glassless windows with duct tape and the doors with plastic bags and blankets in an attempt to protect themselves from the rain and the cold. This did not prevent them from constantly being sick.
“Last winter we almost froze to death from the cold. I was sick many times,” 25-year-old Fatima said.
She recalls how her daughter was electrocuted early September after she came in contact with exposed wires in her room. “I went to check on her and I saw her banging her head against the wall. I rushed to help her, and was caught in the electrical shock myself,” related the Syrian woman.
With SFD funding and in partnership with CHF, UNHCR was able to carry out the main repair works at the apartment, including placement of aluminum frames and glass on the windows and entrance door, and installation of proper power outlets in all the rooms.
“We are all safe now,” said Fatima in relief.
Rehabilitation and upgrading of sub-standard buildings is an important component of UNHCR’s shelter response in Lebanon, particularly when weather conditions worsen. The UN Refugee Agency, with the support of generous donors such as the Saudi Fund for Development, provides materials and tools, such as timber, plywood and ironmongery, to seal off shelters from cold weather.
In 2016, UNHCR assisted close to 10,000 refugees through the rehabilitation of sub-standard shelters.
UNHCR’s note: This story has been published in Arabic at:
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