Sarah Squires, Senior Communications Officer at Generations For Peace
Lebanon accommodates over one million registered Syrian refugees; however, the exact figure is estimated to be much more. The country has long played a major role in hosting refugees, dating back to 1948 when many Palestinians fled during the Arab-Israeli conflict. At present, the total number of registered Palestinian refugees living in the country is approximately 450,000. As a result of continued regional tensions, Lebanon faces tremendous societal, economical and political pressures.
Today, Syrian refugees struggle to access healthcare services, education and employment opportunities due to Lebanon’s stringent residency rules, and almost 70% are unable to secure legal status. Similarly, Palestinian refugees also face restrictions related to their freedom of movement as well as dire living conditions. According to a survey conducted in 2015, 65% of Palestine refugees from Lebanon and 90% of Palestine refugees from Syria in Lebanon live in abject poverty. It is important to note that the Lebanese population have not moved through this ongoing crisis unscathed. In fact, around 170,000 Lebanese were living below the poverty line by 2015.
In response to increasing social tensions and community vulnerability, Generations For Peace (GFP) announced a three-year programme in 2016 to engage youth in activities that foster greater cooperation and positive relationships, and initiate dialogue on human rights issues. GFP volunteers have been working hard to support Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian youth in areas that have borne the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis. The programme, which is funded by the European Union, through its European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, is implemented in collaboration with the Development for People and Nature Association and the Beirut Centre for Development and Human Rights.
Youth from Hasbaya, Miye ou Miye, Tripoli, and Tyre share their experiences of living in Lebanon. Although they come from diverse backgrounds, they are united by a wish to see future generations afforded equal rights and opportunities.
This is what they had to say.
17 years old
“GFP is really important because there is more than one nationality living in Lebanon: we have Palestinian and Syrian refugees, and the Lebanese themselves. GFP is important to ensure the inclusion of these nationalities and to prove to people who have different perspectives about other nationalities, that people are better than what others may think of them. The programme we’re doing breaks stereotypes and unites people.”
According to Mohammad, the programme is steadily improving communication among youth: “Before, everyone used to like everyone. The neighbours were there for their neighbours, but this changed. Communities here don’t mix, and when we first started at GFP, everyone was alone: Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians. But after some time we became more inclusive. It changed my point of view about people from different nationalities, and it brought me closer to them.”
Mohammad has lived in Beddawi camp since the day he was born, and worries about the years to come: “I’m a young boy; my future is ahead of me. I know I’ll finish my education and university and I’m sure I won’t find a job, so I’ll either stay at the coffee shop or home. I know what my destiny will be if I stay in Lebanon, nothing – no work and just a certificate that I’ll put on the wall. As a Palestinian who’s close to finishing school, I feel frustrated, I’ve no hope for my future.”
16 years old
“I’ve changed a lot since the beginning of the programme. I began my journey with GFP not knowing that this was going to happen. I started changing without feeling it. The first thing I learned is how to interact with others and speak to them. It [the programme] taught us how to be considerate of what others are feeling, allowing them to become closer to you – and not to judge them from the outside but the inside.”
Previously, Aya avoided speaking to youth from other nationalities because of the negative things she heard, but this changed after she joined the programme: “If new Syrian people come in and they’re not GFP participants, I speak to them and get to know them. The aim of the GFP programme as I see it is to unite all nationalities, ethnicities, and different religions. I feel that they’re [volunteers] doing this so we can all get together. We didn’t know each other’s names, and we didn’t speak to one another. I used to say hi to someone, and they wouldn’t respond. But now, if we don’t see someone we miss them, and we ask when we’re going to see them.”
Aya is an ambitious young woman, but when she thinks about the next steps in her life, she sees obstacles standing in her way: “I don’t want to do something small, I dream about doing something big in this life, like becoming an architect or studying fashion design. When I think about my future, I feel worried and sad because opportunities for Palestinians are limited here.”
18 years old
Before arriving in Lebanon three years ago, Ahmad lived in Yarmouk Camp in Syria, which housed roughly 160,000 registered Palestinian refugees before the Syrian civil war. “I felt discrimination when I first came to Lebanon. The first year was so hard for me – there were a lot of problems not only with people but also police stations and schools. The thing that used to annoy me most is what I faced in school, not from the students – the teachers. We used Arabic a lot in Syria, and here [they use] English, so I found it hard to get teachers to explain anything to me. I had to wait because if I asked my friends in class, the teacher would think that was trying to distract others.”
Ahmad currently lives in Rashidieh, a refugee camp in southern Lebanon which hosts 31,478 registered refugees. It has not been an easy journey for Ahmad, a young man who has faced many challenges due to the lack of jobs and educational opportunities, as well as difficulties leaving the camp. “I joined the armed groups because I needed the money, I was lucky to be able to get out of the groups, but I feel bad for other youth my age who enter these groups because they’re desperate.”
Ahmad’s participation at GFP has equipped him with the knowledge and tools to address the social struggles he encounters: “The aim of GFP is to spread awareness for youth about the problems in the community – how to face our everyday problems. GFP teaches you life skills and how to deal with the community you’re in, and this is the most important thing. We won’t be able to overcome the discrimination problems if there’s no communication.”
Emphasising this point, he says: “Communication happens when you meet and get to know other people from other nationalities, and [learn] how to live together. I believe that every human is a human, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity or religion. It’s all about the principles of humanity. In the beginning, I didn’t want to be a part of this programme, but now I have a lot of friends from different nationalities, and I know that this is really important.”
16 years old
Before joining GFP, Liliane did not interact with non-Lebanese youth: “I didn’t have the courage before to mix with them (Syrians), I preferred to have friends from my nationality.” Since taking part in the programme, she has made both Palestinian and Syrian friends: “I changed for the better. At GFP we work in groups, as teams. I used to prefer to work alone, to have my ideas. But after I participated, I discovered that sharing ideas is great – I knew more and others knew more.” Liliane now feels like an active part of the community and believes that exchanging ideas with others is key to creating a better society for all.
Over time Lilliane has also broadened her knowledge on issues that affect her generation and would like to see the programme implemented across Lebanon: “I learnt about human rights. I learnt that people from other nationalities are also people, whether Syrian, Palestinian or any other nationality. Maybe if everyone started with themselves, we could make a difference. Every young person should know the rights that he/she has. Every young person should live in equality,” she says.
Elaborating on the importance of equality, she adds: “We’re all the same; we’re all human beings…at the end of the day, differences shouldn’t lead to violence. After participating in GFP, I found the Syrian crisis and Palestinian [crisis] are a part of me. It made me realise that we’re all Arabs – we all need to stand together because united we stand, divided we fall.”
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