Written by Tony Collins, Director of Mishwar.
The current situation in Lebanon for the communities we work with, is that of grinding poverty, unimaginable instability and deep uncertainty about the future. As conditions worsen, some in our communities have already made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and others are planning to risk their lives in the coming weeks and months.
To live up to our self-proclamation as a truly ‘Global Citizen’ we must press the UK government to provide legal routes for the most vulnerable refugees to come to the UK and also to reverse the brutal cuts to our international aid programmes, which have been decimated over recent years. The UK is turning its back on the world’s most vulnerable people – in the world’s most important yet fragile regions. My friend Faisal (not his real name) told me last week,
‘I know I am risking my life on this but anything and anywhere will be better than staying here.’
Since 2019 we have been buffeted by what the World Bank considers as one of the world’s 3 worst economic crises since 1850, with – hyper-inflation, fuel shortages, electricity blackouts, medicine shortages, crushing unemployment rates, soaring child exploitation and most brutal of all, hunger is now part of our daily experience, something Lebanon avoided even through the depths of it’s own brutal civil war (1975-90).
All this on the back of a revolution which toppled a government in 2020; one of the world’s largest ever non-nuclear explosions in the heart of Beirut in the same year; the effects of the pandemic lockdowns; and the persisting Syrian refugee crisis – the largest since the Second World War. Akkar, where we work, is the Mediterranean’s poorest region and poverty rates are consistently above 90% – it’s also the region with the highest proportion of refugees in Lebanon, with Lebanon itself being the country in the world with the highest number of refugees per capita!
The scale of the crisis we face cannot be understated.
To give just one example of the daily reality – the minimum wage pre-2019 was equivalent to around $400 per month, now in 2022 those on that same salary are likely to receive around $20 per month, factor into this also that inflation over that period has been more than 1000%. Many salaries are down by 20x and prices up by 10x. When facing our own ‘cost of living crisis’ in the UK let’s consider what this means for Lebanon as it hosts as many as 2 million refugees in a country 1/8 the size of Scotland.
We’re a small team working to support refugee camps and with myself being the only exception, are comprised entirely of ‘locals’ – Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese. We work to provide direct humanitarian and development support – in creative ways. We rely on individual donors and supporters as the spectre of aid cuts is something we always knew was coming and we believe aid organisations should be accountable to those who support them. We aim to cut out the middle men and offer a platform for refugee and local communities to engage with the outside world directly. As things stand however we are fighting against the tide and simply cannot protect so many of the vulnerable in our communities from the lack of proper aid provision and the double-edged sword of a near complete absence of legal routes to safety.