“For their Sake”: Portraits of Palestinian women refugees from Syria

"My children give me strength. They are the reason we came here. The first thing I remember from my last days in Yarmouk is my daughter screaming in the middle of the night to the sound of bombing and shelling. I couldn't take it any longer," says Faten. "Sometimes I think to myself and say this is all a bad, bad dream, and that I will wake-up in the morning in my house in Yarmouk to the sound of humming birds."

Faten is holding her baby in her arms and smiling like one automatically does when asked to pose for the camera. The stare of her two older children is piercing the lens. They look puzzled and a little suspicious of the stranger glimpsing through their new lives in Central Bekaa, Lebanon.

The moment captured that day is part of an online gallery “For their Sake” launched by the Regional Office in the Middle East of the UN Human Rights Office for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, 29 November.

The photo gallery aims to describe the challenges faced by women Palestinian Refugees from Syria, and to raise awareness of their human rights situation and their individual struggle for survival.

“Palestinian women from Syria have a double burden, since they are mostly the ones responsible for the household, the children and the sick, they suffer the most emotionally from the deterioration of their living conditions,” said Abdel Salam Sidahmed, UN Human Rights Regional Representative for the Middle East.

“Throughout our visits to these women, we noticed that what they all had in common was that their survival drive is essentially fuelled by their love for their children,” he added, “hence the title of the photo gallery.”

According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), a year ago some 51,000 Palestine Refugees from Syria fled the conflict seeking safety and shelter in Lebanon. It is estimated that another 20,000 will have sought the help of the agency in Jordan by the end of 2014. Up to 2,000 more are believed to currently be seeking refuge in Egypt where the relief agency has no presence and is unable to register them.

While irregular status of Palestine Refugees from Syria in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt means they endure a considerable degree of insecurity, it is mostly the women among them who bear the brunt of this tragic situation. This is also the case for other women refugees in other situations around the world.

A recent report released by the NGOs Oxfam and Abaad-Resource Centre for Equality found that women Palestinian Refugees from Syria in Lebanon go regularly hungry. About ninety per cent of those interviewed said that they regularly give up their meals or bath water to their children and husbands. Because of lack of privacy in overcrowded shelters they wear their “hijab” for weeks in a row without ever taking it off.

The report also highlights that, because of their extremely vulnerable legal situation, women refugees are always in fear of being kidnapped, robbed, attacked and sexually abused, leading them to restrict their movement. The report further mentions that while some felt they had lost their female identity, others said that the new responsibilities have actually empowered them.

Mariam is unable to describe the amount of fear and difficulties she and her family endured. Like the eleven other women portrayed in the photo gallery, she has left behind what she had come to call home and perhaps all hope for a normal life.

“I don’t know if I should have hope or not. Life is very difficult here. Life seems meaningless for me now. I lost my husband, my home, I lost everything. The only glow of hope, maybe, is that my children are unharmed and with me here. I try to be strong, for their sake.”

28 November 2014

See also