New Islamic Relief report highlights dire situation faced by Syrian refugee women

“Women don’t feel confident or comfortable alone outside the camp. There may be violence. They are scared… I wanted to go to the dentist but my mother couldn’t come with me and I couldn’t go alone. Here it is like a prison.” (Roksan Suleimen, Basirma Camp, Iraq)

Invisible Lives, a new report launched by Islamic Relief at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference on September 18, shows that chronic underfunding is making life miserable for Syrian women refugees in neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon.

Some women say the refugee camps they are living in feel more like prison camps as they struggle to make ends meet, to find safe childcare, to cope with harassment and to  get their children into school.

Baroness Lindsay Northover, a former Under Secretary of State in the Department for International Development, was one of the speakers at a fringe debate organised by Islamic Relief at the conference to discuss the report.

She said: “Women refugees from Syria are in a dire situation. They don’t have the kind of freedoms they had before, encountering gender-based violence, poverty and a lack of employment. With their children also out of education, there is a danger this will become a lost generation. It is absolutely vital that this issue is addressed.”

Another speaker at the event was our UK Director, Imran Madden.

“The most under-funded sector of both Lebanon and Iraq UN appeals is livelihoods,” he said. “Single women, many in need of employment, now head over a quarter of Syrian refugee households in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and in Lebanon alone one fifth of households are headed by single women.

“These are dignified, proud women who find themselves not only refugees but also having to take responsibility for paying the bills and caring in the home, away from their traditional sources of support. They are vulnerable in so many ways. We want their voices to be heard.”

Around 52% of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, and 44% of in Iraq are women and girls, and their situation is deteriorating. The UN reports that income levels are plummeting, putting families at extreme risk of impoverishment.

Report co-author and Islamic Relief Advocacy Manager Helen Stawski adds: “Since arriving in Iraqi Kurdistan, only 18% of Syrian women have NOT been subjected to some form of verbal or physical abuse, and women who previously walked around freely in Syria now need to be accompanied by male relatives, if they still have them, outside the home. Women in camps often need to share poorly lit bathrooms with men and feel vulnerable to harassment at work if they are lucky enough to get it. We need to do everything possible to support them.”

The biggest challenges facing Syrian women are:

  • Finding good employment: well-qualified women are often barred from sectors such as teaching and retail. The best they can hope for, and many don’t have this chance, are poorly paid low-grade jobs.
  • Violence: women are subject to harassment and abuse at work, in the home and in public places, by husbands, male family members, colleagues, neighbours, police, government employees and NGO staff.
  • Education for their children: Syrian families often can’t pay transport or clothing costs and their children often don’t understand the language schools use to teach, plus parents are scared their children are unsafe at school.

Islamic Relief is calling for change in these three categories, employment, violence against women and education. Click here to read Islamic Relief’s recommendations.

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