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The lonely struggle facing Syria’s refugee women.

By the UN Refugee Agency

“Syrian refugee women are the glue holding together a broken society. Their strength is extraordinary, but they are struggling alone. Their voices are an appeal for help and protection which cannot be ignored.” – Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Special Envoy. 

High on a hill outside of Tripoli, Lebanon, Fadia lives with her four children in an isolated tower. She had to flee Syria’s awful civil war after her husband was killed in May 2012. Today, she feels vulnerable and alone.

In the tower, Fadia feels her every move is scrutinised by neighbours and local people. “There are a lot of windows here; they make me nervous,” she says. “People watch and gossip. If a woman goes out, they say she is a prostitute.”

Money is so tight, sometimes she can only cook one meal a day. Meat and vegetables are an expensive luxury. “We see meat once a month, when we get food vouchers,” she says. “Every now and then I might buy it, so the children don’t miss it too much.”

Fadia, who used to be a nurse in Syria, survived a massacre that claimed the life of her husband. She stayed in her home as long as she could, but fled when the bombing reached her neighbourhood, watching as the shelling destroyed her house.

Today, Fadia and her children are still recovering from the shock of having their house bombed and seeing so many people killed. They crossed into Lebanon in December 2012. “On New Year’s Eve the fireworks were so loud that we hid in the corner. It took us three months to adapt, but we still don’t watch the news. We don’t like the sound of bullets and bombs that are in the background.”

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The stairways in the tower are dark, electricity is infrequent and a puddle of water leaks into the entrance of her flat. The tower is a menacing place, but she is grateful that it shelters her and her four children. “I am glad we have a roof,” she says, “but this tower is like a prison.”

Fadia is one of almost 150,000 Syrian refugee women whose men have been killed, captured or otherwise separated from their families. Once proud homemakers in supportive environments, they are now forced to do everything on their own. They struggle every day to make ends meet, and face daily harassment and humiliation from the men around them – simply because they are alone.

During three months of interviews in early 2014, UNHCR found that 60 per cent of women who headed their families alone felt insecure. One in three women interviewed were too scared or overwhelmed to leave their homes.

UNHCR is leading initiatives to support refugee women, including direct financial assistance, and programs addressing the prevention of sexual violence, and support for survivors, including shelters, psychosocial support and counselling. There are also training programs to help equip Syrian refugee women with practical skills that will help them find employment and provide for their families.

With 2.8 million refugees and 6.5 million displaced people within Syria, this is now the largest displacement crisis in the world. Since the start of 2014, more than 100,000 Syrian refugees have registered in neighbouring countries every month. The total number of refugees is expected to reach 3.6 million by the end of the year.

Learn more about how you can support UNHCR’s work with Syrian refugee women. 

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