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Refugee stories: Syria

Two stories from Syrian refugees who fled conflict and have found support through local Tearfund partners in Lebanon.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 20 Jun 2023

Imane, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon, sits with her four young children.

Imane and her children sought refuge in Lebanon after fleeing violence in Syria. Credit: Tearfund partner in Lebanon

Trigger Warning

This story describes situations that some readers may find upsetting.

What would compel you to leave your home? What would it take for you to run, leaving your belongings, your friends, your neighbours, your job, your country, maybe even your language… everything you’ve known so far?

World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day falls on 20 June each year. It’s a day dedicated to honouring the people who have had to do just that – people who have fled their places of comfort when they, sometimes in a matter of minutes, have lost every trace of what was once comforting.

The UN defines a refugee as someone who, ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is… unwilling to return to it.’ 

27.1 million refugees, 82 million stories

 At the end of 2021, there were 27.1 million refugees around the world. Half of them were under the age of 18. 

In many countries, Tearfund works – often through the local church – to help improve the lives of people who are refugees or who are displaced within their own countries. Conflict, economic hardship and natural disasters (often caused by climate change) have forced more than 82 million people around the world from their homes. The massive numbers can seem overwhelming, but each of those statistics is a unique person, with a name and a story. Each person represented by the numbers is loved by God. Each person deserves the opportunity to thrive.

These two refugee stories come from people who fled conflict in Syria and have found support through Tearfund partners working in Lebanon.

Imane’s* story

Imane and her husband sought shelter in Lebanon, where they now live with their four young children.  

‘We are from the countryside in Syria,’ Imane* explains. We’ve been out of Syria for seven years, ever since the violent conflict came to our area.

‘We saw so many people die in front of our eyes.’
Imane, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

‘Armed men used to cut off heads in public. They pressured all women to cover themselves from head to toe, threatening to kill the ones who wouldn’t comply. 

‘We saw so many people die in front of our eyes. 

‘When the aeroplanes would hit, I would start thinking that either my daughter was going to die or I would die in front of her eyes. Thank God he spared our lives.’ 

Journey to safety

‘When the conflict started, we moved to Damascus for a while because it was safer. There, God granted us twins, a baby girl and a baby boy. Sadly, my baby boy passed away when he was six months old because we couldn’t afford bottled water and even though I boiled the water that I gave him, it was still unclean and made him ill. I wasn’t able to find him a proper doctor or treatment and he died in my arms.’

Not long after this tragedy, a case of mistaken identity led to Imane’s husband being left seriously injured.  

‘Some terrible things happened to my husband,’ she says. ‘For three months afterwards, he could not even walk and had to receive treatment for his numerous injuries. His leg was in such a horrific condition that they almost had to amputate it. His leg still makes it difficult for him to work. 

‘Once he started to feel a bit better, we moved to Lebanon.’

Refugees in Lebanon

‘We found safety here, but life has always been hard for us. When we first came here, people would tell us to go back to our country – as if we were happy that we had to flee our lives and be separated from our loved ones. 

‘When we first came here, people would tell us to go back to our country – as if we were happy that we had to flee our lives and be separated from our loved ones. ’
Imane, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

‘Also, we had to leave everything behind. We had nothing. My baby daughter didn’t even have a mattress to sleep on. Little by little, our Lebanese neighbours helped us with as many house supplies as they could. I thank God for them!’

Hope away from home

Imane’s family have been able to find some support through our local partner – including education for their eldest daughter, Amal, as well as food vouchers, winter provisions such as heating during the cold months and essential hygiene items. Imane has also been able to attend counselling and support sessions organised through our local partner.

‘If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what would have happened to us,’ says Imane. ‘Thank God for the support of the church and for everyone making this possible!’

‘Our Lebanese neighbours helped us with as many house supplies as they could. I thank God for them!’
Imane, Syrian refugee in Lebanon
Emir, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, wears football kit ready to play a match and smiles as his coach adjusts the armband showing that Emir is captaining the team.

Emir’s family sought refuge in Lebanon after violence in Syria. He has found support through Tearfund’s local partner, Play for Peace. Credit: Tearfund partner in Lebanon

Emir’s* story

Emir was born in Syria, but the violent conflict there meant he and his family had to leave their country and move to Lebanon. 

Life was very hard. Emir’s father had died when he was very young, his mother is sick, and the family’s financial situation was very difficult. All of the emotional strain led to Emir struggling with his temper, and even though he loved to play football, he battled to stay in a team because his behaviour was aggressive and hostile on the pitch and in training.

Over the years, Emir was part of our local partner football project in Lebanon called Play For Peace. He used to come along and play and was a talented footballer, but then he would leave again when his anger meant he couldn’t get along with the coaches or his teammates. 

A new start

Then, in August 2020 the Beirut blast happened. An explosion of ammonium nitrate in the port caused widespread death, injury and destruction in the city and affected many of the people involved in the Play for Peace project. Emir himself was injured and afterwards our team called him and offered help whenever it was needed. They visited him regularly and he also began to receive some counselling support.

Emir found this really helpful and he started to feel able to be open about his feelings, which meant that he could start to work through them. For the first time, he also felt able to set goals for his future. By the end of the programme, he had decided that he wanted to become one of the Play for Peace coaches!

‘I changed mentally and emotionally; my behaviour and attitude also changed.’
Emir, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

In the months that followed, Emir’s emotional and mental wellbeing continued to improve. In one important local tournament, he was even named the ‘most valuable player in the game’ two or three times. 

During the 2021-2022 season, Emir became one of the best Play For Peace coaches. He says, ‘I changed mentally and emotionally; my behaviour and attitude also changed.’ 

Emir’s character transformation also encouraged change in his players and in the people around him, inside and outside of the team. Next, he plans on using his experiences to support others positively through his testimony.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

Pray for refugees

    • Lift up every person around the world who has had to flee their homes and all that they have known in order to find safety. Ask God to provide for their needs.
    • Pray for emotional healing and for comfort for the many who have experienced or witnessed scenes and situations of an extremely traumatic nature. 
    • Bring before God the situations around the world that result in people having to flee. Pray that there will be peace and restoration, and for the Church to be actively involved in every level of this restoration.

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Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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