World Refugee Day: Opening doors to people in crisis

 

Anisa was only a year old when mum Rahma found her banging her head against the floor in frustration.

It was terrifying for Rahma to see her baby hurting so much.

After escaping from war-torn Syria, she had done everything possible to provide a normal family life for her two little girls, yet now it seemed something had gone very wrong.

Life in Syria had been good for Rahma and her husband Karam, but they fled the country at the beginning of the conflict and were left with nothing.

This World Refugee Day, let us take time to remember that the Syrian crisis is not over and that millions of refugees still face an uncertain future.

Anisa is one of the estimated one million Syrian babies born as refugees in the countries surrounding their homeland. She and her family live in the Chiyah suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, in a dark third-floor flat with little furniture. Outside, a dangerous tangle of electricity wires overhangs the street and the crumbling concrete steps to their building are unlikely ever to be made safe. Rahma knows that their situation is better than that of many refugees, but nothing can be taken for granted.

In their early days in Lebanon, things started to look up for a while. Karam, a tailor, went into partnership with a local laundrette to launch a dry cleaning business, and that enabled the family to earn a basic standard of living. But as time went on, Lebanon's struggling economy meant that his customers could no longer afford his services.

For two months, the family hasn't been able to pay their rent and Rahma lies awake picturing her children living on the streets.

And on top of this, Rahma had been finding it difficult to communicate with her child – at first she thought Anisa was stubborn and did not want to listen.

But as Anisa's frustrations escalated, Rahma realised there was more to it – she suspected that her baby was deaf.

Back in Syria, with a good income and a familiar health system, Rahma could easily have sought help, but here in Lebanon everything was more confusing. She was relieved when a neighbour told her about the Embrace-supported Learning Centre for the Deaf (LCD), which runs an Early Intervention Programme (EIP) for very young children. Even better, the centre was accessible by public transport from Chiyah.

Tests showed that Rahma was right and Anisa could not hear – but the team told her that with their support Rahma had every chance of developing her communication skills and getting a good education.

The Learning Centre’s highly trained therapists provide young children a solid foundation for their social, psychological and academic development. The family-centred Early Intervention Programme gives children the best language-learning opportunities, and helps parents step of the way.

'We really need the EIP programme,' says Rahma, 'since it teaches us how to deal with Anisa’s needs and difficulties. We are really thankful to them for welcoming Anisa unconditionally. They gave her hearing aids for free and are helping us to collect the needed amount for her adenoids surgery. In addition they are helping us find out if she will benefit from the hearing aids long term, or if she may need a cochlear implant.'

Like all our partners in Lebanon, LCD has had to adapt to the needs of the large Syrian refugee population who have joined their community over the last eight years.

'The Learning Centre for the Deaf has always opened its doors to families from different nationalities and backgrounds,' says Nadine Ismail, head of the EIP. 'We have among our families Palestinian, Iraqi, and recently many more Syrian refugees. About 30% of the families who we work with weekly are Syrian and we provide a remarkable number of consultations to Syrian children – hearing tests, hearing aids donation, guidance, assessment, referral, and so forth.

'The work with many of these families is a great pleasure and we are very happy to see children succeeding in the schools we referred them to. We hope the families get their wish to go back to their home country, but at the same time, we know that the children we help might not have the same chances in Syria. We hope that the level of services and awareness in Syria improves for the benefit of every deaf child.'

Rahma and Karam are among those who want to return home eventually, but they feel torn about going back.

'I want to be in Syria,' Karam says, 'because I know how things work there, how to get a job – how it works.' But Karam is an army reservist and if he goes back, he could be called up again. That's what happened to his brother, who was subsequently killed in the conflict. 'I have to wait until I'm 42 to be safe, so I can't go back now.'

Although the large-scale fighting within Syria came to an end in 2018, there are still some 5.6 million registered refugees in the neighbouring countries.

Like Rahma and Karam, many aim to return in the future, but this is not an easy decision. With Syria's schools, hospitals and other infrastructure destroyed, and job opportunities scarce, life at home is a bleak prospect. Some families have lost all documentation, which means they can't prove their civil status or reclaim their own property, and many fear repercussions for having avoided conscription and refused to fight. Although the Syria crisis has faded from Western news headlines, millions of people are still uprooted, facing poverty and uncertainty every day.

With your help, Embrace’s partners will continue to serve this displaced and disadvantaged population, showing each family and each individual person that they are not forgotten.

How you can help this World Refugee Day:

You may know we recently expanded our work into Iraq supporting projects bringing healing and hope to refugees returning home. We also re-started supporting work in Syria as well as continuing to support our partners across the region as they serve refugees.

You can give today to support our Christian partners in their life-changing work.

Thank you.

Names have been changed.