Survey into the Livelihoods of Syrian Refugees
There are an estimated one million refugees from Syria living in Lebanon, with more arriving every day. As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, it is increasingly likely that many will remain in Lebanon for many months, if not years, to come. The Beirut Research and Innovation Center was commissioned by Oxfam to survey 260 households, representing 1,591 individuals, about their living conditions, sources of income and expenditure patterns, coping mechanisms and perceptions of life in Lebanon. The survey shows that many families are spiraling deeper into debt, living in cramped conditions, with few job prospects and dwindling hope for the future.
DESCRIPTION AND OBJECTIVES
The survey commissioned by Oxfam was meant to provide an indicative tool to assess the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and to document key questions related to existing coping mechanisms, social and economic conditions and regarding the future. The survey centered on very specific questions; however, to answer these questions, BRIC had to develop a framework for a comprehensive understanding of the overall conditions for the refugees to better assess and represent the voices of the refugees with regards to the specific questions at hand. To this end, the report covers far more ground than scope of the survey initially requested. To provide a comprehensive understanding of the situation of Syrian refugees, BRIC scoped the following areas related to the lives of the target group:
- Demographics: documenting the main demographic aspects of the population and comparing them with existing data on the Syrian population at large to assess where the refugees are coming from and what social constraints surround their presence in Lebanon.
- Economic conditions: assessing the economic constraints related to income and expenditure, work, skills, levels of financial assistance received, and coping mechanisms. Through the comprehensive survey, it was possible to assess the refugee community’s impact on the Lebanese Economy.
- Social Conditions: examining available social services in relation to actual needs, as well as living conditions in light of social constraints.
- Future prospects: putting the above mentioned conditions into perspective and following special lines of inquiry to draw out a more accurate and realistic assessment of refugees’ hopes, fears and constraints. Additionally, a glimpse at social cohesion among Syrians and between Syrian refugees and their host communities will be analyzed.
The study also aims to understand the perception of the Lebanese officials most concerned with dealing with the refugee crisis on a national and local level. It examines their perception of the problem alongside that of the refugees themselves and to tries to develop a comparative framework for bridging the gaps in perception in the future.
SAMPLE OF FINDINGS
1- When expressing their greatest concerns and fears, respondents listed issues such as poverty, remaining in refugee status, lack of dignified work, missing out on education for their children and losing a loved one during war. Sectarian strife and illegal status in Lebanon were viewed as lesser concerns.
2- Most families rely on friends and family to support them when faced with medical bills and particular emergencies. However, a greater number is dependent on debt to cover daily expenses, with the hope that the situation will get better soon. The average household has accrued about $454 in debt. However, some have borrowed considerably more than others. On average 77 per cent of the households surveyed are in debt.
3- The average household income is a bit less than $250 per month, as provided by its head or a secondary member. However, there are great variations of income and expenditure across regions. The median income across all regions is $200 per month.
4- The largest expenses consist of food ($275 per month), rent ($225 per month) and medical services. The latter, however, is harder to quantify as there is a tendency to consider a major emergency expense as a recurring cost. Utilities incur an expense of $60 per month. The high level of spending on food and rent leaves little to spend on other essentials like education. However, there is a great discrepancy in spending levels, with some families relying completely on in kind support for certain items like food or rent. After adjusting for this fact, the average cash spending per family is calculated to be in the range of $520 per month.
More efficient and transparent criteria for the distribution of resources
During the survey it was noticed that municipal respondents did not trust the work of NGOs and that they believed that the funds received by Lebanon were squandered on redundant assessment studies, multiple survey teams and excessive security. Many municipalities were not co-operative when initially contacted. In addition, some municipal respondents underlined that conducting focus groups would be counter-productive because most refugees were disappointed by the work of NGOs and that distributing aid during such meetings might encourage refugees to co-operate. Interviews with municipal authorities have shown that the perception of wasted resources is impeding the current relief effort and worsening tensions between Syrians and Lebanese communities and relief agencies.
Create development projects addressing marginalized communities to help rebuild trust in the state
In the face of a protracted Syrian conflict, emergency responses should be dovetailed with long term development assistance and infrastructure projects that employ locals, as these would benefit both Syrian refugees and host communities.
Establish camps or ensure a housing solution for refugees
As the conflict escalates in Syria, the number of Syrian refugees coming into the country will keep on growing. A common opinion expressed by respondents was the need to establish refugee camps in border areas to solve the problem of registration, smooth out the relief effort, lessen the burdens on the local population and appease security fears. Several municipal respondents also underlined the pressing issue of offering viable housing to refugees and possibly imposing rent caps to stop their exploitation by Lebanese land owners.
Insuring proper distribution of aid
Several municipalities reported that the distribution of food aid was essential to maintaining security in their region since the lack of sufficient food was often linked to higher levels of criminality.
Security was listed as a major concern. Respondents advocated better control of the influx of refugees in Lebanon and enhanced security in the different municipalities.