Crisis in Syria, part 6: debts, difficulties rise for refugees

As the Syrian conflict deepens, refugees are falling into debt just to survive, many of them unable to find work. Difficulties are rising for locals, too, as shopkeepers can't afford to restock their shelves and some residents lose their jobs to newcomers. Additionally, aid agencies struggle to provide relief, running out of funds.

This is the sixth installment in our series about the Syrian refugee crisis. Miss any of the first five? Read them here. (Additional reporting by World Vision's Chris Huber.)

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In Lebanon, Syrian refugee Ferdoz and her five children live in a tent by the side of the road. Her rent costs $330 a year. She can’t afford it.

“I asked the landlord to be patient and allow me time to find it,” she says. “How I will pay, I don't know. My children are not old enough to work, and no one will employ me.”

She owes $200 for the plastic sheeting for her tent. She also owes two local shop owners $40 each for bread they’ve recently supplied in good faith.

“I tell my children to try not to eat much, but even so, we need bread,” Ferdoz says. “The wife of one storekeeper is very kind. Yesterday she gave me some eggs when her husband wasn't looking.”

But the storeowners are nervous -- they’re incurring their own debt to stock their shelves for needy families.

Recently, the other shopkeeper came to the door of the tent and threatened Ferdoz and her children. Miriam, 13, looks worried as she shows how the man clenched his fist in her face.

“His voice was really angry. He was shouting, ‘Give me the money, give me the money,’” Miriam says.

Dia, who provided the eggs, doesn’t know how she will keep her shop open much longer.

“I am scared,” she says. “My business is suffocating. I cannot afford to restock. My husband is very angry with the refugees. But, if someone asks you for bread for their hungry children, could you turn your back and say no? I know I can't.”

The generous shopkeeper shows her ledger book. She has loaned more than $3,000 to Syrian refugees. She is now worried her business may fail if those whom she buys supplies from do not show her the same grace. (Photo: Patricia Mouamar/World Vision)

The refugee situation in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon is a ticking time bomb. Before the refugees arrived, life was already tough for the locals -- unemployment was high and jobs were scarce. Local residents now complain that the refugees undermine the labor forceby offering to work for less pay than a Lebanese worker.

In a desperate effort to come up with at least something to pay the angry shopkeeper when he returns, Miriam and her younger brother collect aluminum cans. They and other children have been collecting the scrap and selling it for $2 a bag.

Ferdoz's children have been collecting scrap metal to sell to help their mother get money. They earn $2 per bag collected. (Photo: Patricia Mouamar/World Vision)

“We'll just have to collect some more bags. We will manage, won't we, Mama?” Miriam says, hoping for a reassuring answer to her question.

Her little sister, Isra, grins and holds up a half-bald plastic Barbie doll she found while scrounging. They left all their toys behind in Syria.

Not able to get to school, the children also collect scrap newspapers and leaflets, which they burn on the little stove inside the tent. The children are resourceful and are trying to make the most of a difficult situation.

“This is no life for them,” Ferdoz says. “They ought to be in school. But the nearest school is 10 miles from here. Even if I can get a place [to live], I can't afford the $40 a month to get them there. Maybe I can borrow that, too.”

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Humanitarian agencies are running low on funds to help millions of people affected by the war in Syria, prompting one United Nations official to warn: “Our capacity to do more is diminishing.”

The United Nations and dozens of other aid organizations have appealed for $1.5 billion to help people affected through the first half of 2013. Some humanitarian aid has reached families displaced within Syria.

But it's not enough. Reuters reports that at least 6.8 million people inside Syria are still in need of aid.

Likewise, the refugee crisis in neighboring countries is stretching resources dangerously thin. Jordan now hosts almost 460,000 refugees. Nearly 430,000 have amassed in Lebanon, and more than 290,000 are in Turkey.

“We are precariously close, perhaps within weeks, to suspending some humanitarian support,” says Etharin Cousin, the head of the World Food Program, in the video appeal.

World Vision is the World Food Program’s largest distributor of food aid globally; in the current refugee crisis, World Vision has provided 70,000 refugees in Lebanon with monthly food vouchers.

World Vision is seeking $40 million for its response throughout the region, planning to provide food vouchers to 130,000 refugees in Lebanon and 110,000 in Jordan. Our relief efforts are centered on children, who are suffering most in the midst of the conflict -- not just because of hunger, but also torture, sexual exploitation, emotional trauma, and even murder.

Read our answers to frequently asked questions about the Syrian conflict and refuge crisis.

Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide emergency assistance for Syrian refugees. Your gift will help us deliver basic hygiene kits and food vouchers for refugee families, as well as established Child-Friendly Spaces to provide affected children with a safe place to play, learn, and interact with their peers.

Please join us in prayer for all World Vision staff members working around the world, particularly in this region of conflict.

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