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Syrian Female-Headed Refugee Families Struggle to Survive

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A Syrian refugee woman hangs laundry at a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Majdal Anjar, Lebanon, June 19, 2014.

FILE - A Syrian refugee woman hangs laundry at a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Majdal Anjar, Lebanon, June 19, 2014.

A new survey indicates more than 145,000 Syrian refugee families are headed by women who are struggling to make ends meet. The survey carried out by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan reports these households are caught in a spiral of poverty, isolation and fear.

The survey indicates one in four Syrian women who have been forced to flee their homes are faced with the grim prospect of spending their lives in exile alone, without a husband who can help care for them and their families.

This situation would be difficult under any circumstances. But, it is particularly hard for Syrian refugee women who come from a very traditional, conservative society - a society in which a woman without a man has no status and is treated as an outcast by her community.

UNHCR chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told VOA women are traumatized and extremely anxious about how they will live and be able to support their families alone in a foreign country.

“Their biggest anxiety was about money, resources. They also felt very isolated - frightened to move around, out of the house. They felt vulnerable to harassment, vulnerable to attacks by men. So, it is the climate of being a refugee in many cases is extremely worrying and very tough,” she said.

The UNHCR report is based on the personal testimony of 135 women over a three-month period early this year. The survey indicates the vast majority of Syrian refugees in the region do not live in camps, which would provide them with a safer environment, regular food and other assistance.

Instead, it said, they live in towns and cities, in dilapidated shelters and garages, and in rooms rented at exorbitant prices. It said only one-fifth of refugee women have paid work and many find it hard to get a job. It said many women face exploitation, are vulnerable to rape, sexual abuse and other forms of intimidation and harassment.

Syrian Refugees by Country

  • Lebanon: 1,120,518
  • Turkey: 799,291
  • Jordan 605,660
  • Iraq: 220,210
  • Egypt: 138,245

Source: UNHCR

The report noted only one-fifth of the Syrian women receive support from other adult relatives and one-third of those surveyed said they do not have enough to eat.

Fleming said many female-headed households that cannot make ends meet are forced to choose between sending their children to school or out to work.

“This is also another huge worry for these women. First of all, their children have seen things that no child should ever see back home in Syria during the war. They come out. They are traumatized. They have lost friends. And, the thing that they all want most is for that child to heal and to go back to school. But, they cannot afford to send that child back to school. So, they send their child out and think hopefully this is temporary-to work. Unfortunately, children are also exploited. They are not paid very much and they are working long hours,” said Fleming.

Since the beginning of the year, the U.N. refugee agency reports it has been registering 100,000 new Syrian refugees every month. At this rate, it said, it expects the number of Syrian refugees to grow from the current 2.8 million to 3.6 million by the end of the year.

UNHCR's Melissa Fleming said the explosion of Syrian refugees means more female-headed households will be in need of care and protection. On the basis of this survey, she says, her agency will work harder to identify vulnerable families and offer them critical assistance.

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