Reflections on Refugee Week: How does Tdh support refugee and host communities in Lebanon?
On this year's refugee week, we spoke to Fatima Ardat, Child Protection Programme Manager at Terre des hommes*. Fatima is a refugee and lives in a closed Palestinian camp in Lebanon with her four children. With lockdown imposed and schools closed she has had to adapt to the challenges of home schooling whilst continuing her vital work in the community. She tells us about her work in Lebanon, difficulties she’s faced in light of the pandemic, and how Tdh projects in Lebanon are responding on the ground.
Could you tell us about where you work and the work you do?
I work in Lebanon across four districts: South, Nabatiyeh, Beirut and Mount Lebanon, and Bekaa. The main focus is on supporting the most vulnerable communities and districts, particularly refugees from Syria and Palestine. The core goal of our work in Lebanon is to enhance the well-being of children, preventing and protecting them from violence, exploitation and abuse while increasing their skills, agency and resilience.
Our work focuses on protecting children and their families in vulnerable groups (Syrian refugees, Palestinian Refugees from Syria, Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon, and vulnerable Lebanese), and fulfilling their rights. We provide a variety of services, such as the provision of psychosocial support, responding to – and managing cases of - child protection and gender-based, creating safe spaces for children and women, and drop in centres for children working on the streets. We encourage community engagement through awareness raising activities, children and youth led advocacy initiatives, and positive parenting and family groups. Additionally, we work with local and national authorities and stakeholders (Social Development Centres, Municipal Police, Religious Courts, Palestinian Security Forces, Child Protection Networks in Palestinian Camps) and civil society actors (local NGOs and community-based organisations).
What is your biggest motivation in your job?
My biggest motivation is supporting children and women from the refugee and migrant community. We have made significant achievements in providing care and support for high risk cases. I have been able to develop my skills and passion through this work. Growing up in a refugee community, I have learnt a lot about how much these initiatives can help, which is reflected in my passion for supporting others. My family, including my parents and children, also motivate me in the work that I do.
How has COVID19 impacted the communities you work with?
In Lebanon, after the fast spread of the virus, the government announced a state of health emergency, urging everyone to remain at home and banning gatherings of all kinds. With schools closed and restrictions on movement, these communities have lacked access to vital services, making them even more vulnerable.
The need for food and hygiene assistance has increased drastically. Lockdown measures have also placed more pressure on protection services; there are increasing numbers of reports of severe child abuse cases during this stressful period of social distancing and isolation, and the most vulnerable communities and children living in unsafe situations are more exposed. It is more difficult to identify and respond to new cases during this period.
The lack of communication in camps means that access to information is difficult and rumours spread quickly, causing stigma and uncertainty. Having more children at home engaged in distance learning places additional strain on internet connectivity, and delivery of education at home means having a parent with the time and ability to support children at multiple grade levels while also managing their own responsibilities.
How have you had to adapt your work to ensure that children and their families can still be protected and supported?
Most of our activities were either put on hold or adapted in line with governmental decisions and national coordination systems. This includes training staff on mental health and psychosocial support, as well as how to share clear messages with communities in order to tackle rumours with concrete and useful information on the virus. We have also increased our focus on media and online training to help with community engagement and improve communication and have been helping with the distribution of hygiene and food items to those in need.
In addition to the two hotlines already used by Tdh (one to report child protection concerns and the other concerns about gender-based violence) we have recently established a new hotline. This is specifically for health workers to report concerns about new cases of child protection and/or gender-based violence due to COVID19. For example, a health worker may be able to identify a separated child due to lockdown who could be then referred to Tdh through the hotline.
What ongoing challenges face communities (particularly children) living in refugee camps?
Those living in vulnerable settings, such as refugee camps, often lack access to basic needs and public services such as healthcare, education, safe housing etc, so they don’t always have the means to pay the rent or buy food. They can also lack access to information resulting in isolation and misinformation. Children in these communities are already at high risk of child labour (mainly working on the street), child marriage, exploitation, violence and psychosocial distress, all of which have been exacerbated by COVID19.
What about for host communities?
Host communities face financial difficulties as they have very limited resources available for emergency situations. Economic hardships impact the population’s ability to pay rent and bills, buy food, and access healthcare services. The social, educational and economic consequences negatively affect the future paths of children’s lives. In some families, children take on the caregiving responsibility for siblings while a parent continues working or picks up additional shifts at their job to help during financial difficulties. Overall, I would say that both communities have similar challenges, but the most drastic impacts are felt by the most vulnerable members of these communities.
Fatima has been working for Terre des hommes for 8 years, supporting children and their families in vulnerable contexts. To find out more about Tdh’s work in the field, listen to the new podcast “The Field” and immerse yourself in the heart of our global interventions.
For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Fatima is also currently overseeing Access to Justice Programming in Lebanon while a new Programme Manager is recruited.
Photo credit ©Tdh/Diego Ibarra