Human Rights Day: A hand-up for Hamid

Gareth Richards
One of many young Syrian refugees who have to work long hours to support their families

Last Friday in Beirut I met Hamid, a young Syrian from Damascus. He's been working as a waiter at a restaurant on the Corniche for almost a year, after he fled the conflict in Syria, fearing for his life. 

Hamid's sisters and parents decided to remain in Damascus. Phone connection is good and Hamid is able to talk to his family most days. He wants to make sure they are safe and that the little money he is able to send home actually gets through so that his parents can buy the costly essentials to keep them alive.

Hamid is one of almost 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon in the last three and a half years. In the region, more than 10 million have fled their homes and remain displaced within Syria or neighbouring countries.

Most of them have not found a job like Hamid. They live in crowded, run-down apartments or in informal tented settlements. Their companions are memories of war, fear for the ones who are still at home and grief for lost family members.

Our lives are on hold

For young Syrians like Hamid, it feels like their lives have been put on hold while they live as refugees. They cannot study or work in their professions. I have met too many Syrians like Hamid while I have been supporting CARE's Syria Response over the past two years.

I have also met many young Lebanese, who are also affected by this crisis. They have difficulties finding work themselves and share many of the refugees' challenges. The national government and many local municipalities have made some efforts to provide refugees with basic services, but the capacities of this tiny country of only four million inhabitants are absolutely overstretched.

Poverty is a human rights obligation

In 2006, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Human Rights Day: "Today, poverty prevails as the gravest human rights challenge in the world. Combating poverty, deprivation and exclusion is not a matter of charity, and it does not depend on how rich a country is. By tackling poverty as a matter of human rights obligation, the world will have a better chance of abolishing this scourge in our life time."

On this year's Human Rights Day, we have to draw a dismal balance. Half of Syria's population is now living in poverty. Many refugee mothers here in Lebanon cannot afford to provide their children with more than one meal a day. At the same time, the World Food Programme (WFP) is suspending vouchers for Syrian refugees due to lack of funding.

It is a stark and concrete example of the impact of current funding constraints on Lebanon.

CARE has been working to support refugees and host communities in Lebanon since April 2013. Our programming in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), alongside emergency cash programming - which helps the most vulnerable communities to cover emergency and basic needs - has already helped over 60,000 conflict-affected individuals. We are now developing livelihoods initiatives to help people find work or establish small businesses.

Giving up is not an option

Despite the funding challenges, giving up is not an option for the CARE team in Lebanon and throughout the region.

We are dedicated to make sure that refugees, despite all of their losses, can at least gain our support. 

But in order to help the more than 13 million people who are in desperate need of assistance and to ensure their basic human rights, funding by the international community has to reflect the fact that needs have increased twelve fold since the beginning of the crisis.

When I talked to Hamid he told me: "I just want to work, to have the opportunity to help my family and better myself. Someday, once the fighting is over, I hope to return to Syria and establish a small business. Until then, I plan to work hard and prove that I deserve to keep my job and can pay my way."

As Louise Arbour said: "Combating poverty is not a matter of charity, but it is a matter of human rights." We see CARE's developing Livelihoods Programme as a Hand-Up, and not a Hand-Out.

Gareth Richards's picture

Gareth Richards is Country Director for CARE Lebanon