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Fatimah’s story: this is what it’s like to be a refugee

World Refugee Day on 20 June helps raise awareness of the difficult situations people like Fatimah and her family face.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 14 Jun 2024

A pile of colourful bedding leans against a wall next to shelves with folded clothing. A makeshift curtain covers the window to the right.

Bedding is piled away in the corner of the small property Fatimah rents with her six children in Lebanon. The family fled the conflict in Syria to find safety, but life is very difficult. Credit: Tearfund

Fatimah* is from Aleppo in Syria. But, that is not where she lives. If she could – if only she had a house to go to – she would go back, she tells us. Fatimah did not choose to leave her country simply to travel or to pursue a chosen career; she is a refugee**. She and her six children are in Lebanon because the war in Syria stole her home. It removed her option to stay safely in the place where she grew up and her children were born. Her place of safety became a place of fear – a place she felt forced to run from.

Finding a place in a foreign country

Now, the family face challenging living conditions in a foreign country where they don’t always feel welcome. It’s a struggle – practically, emotionally and psychologically. ‘The only thing that motivates me and keeps me going are my children,’ says Fatimah. ‘I am so tired from this living situation and these circumstances. I haven’t slept in ten days, because all my children are sick.’

‘The only thing that motivates me and keeps me going are my children. I am so tired.’
Fatimah, Syrian refugee, Lebanon

Fatimah has four daughters and two sons. All are between the ages of nine and 16. The whole family came to Lebanon six years ago, but when Fatimah’s husband couldn’t get a job, he left them behind to look for work – first back in Syria and then in another country.

‘I used to work two shifts to provide for my children,’ says Fatimah, ‘but in the end, I got very tired.

‘Life is hard, taking on the role of a mother and a father. When I was in Syria, I was comfortable at home. I was happy then. We spent two years here without electricity. We used to charge our phone at our neighbour's house, but this eventually frustrated them.

‘Now I am jobless. My son, who’s 12, has to work, but he only gets $10 per week.’

Missing education

‘I have continuous headaches, and I take medicines daily for that reason. My girls help me with the housework, and we stay at home all day, since we can’t afford any activities. My nine-year-old daughter is the only one who goes to school. My other children have never had that privilege, even in Syria. By the time they were at an age to start school, the war had started, and we were on the move. As I am uneducated too, I cannot teach them myself. My heart’s desire is that my children get an education.’

‘My heart’s desire is that my children get an education.’
Fatimah, mum and refugee from Syria

Fatimah recently started receiving some money each month from the United Nations to help her provide for her family, but it is barely enough to cover the rent.

Local church support

In the midst of these extremely difficult and painful circumstances, Tearfund’s local church partner has been able to offer some support to Fatimah and her family.

‘Three years ago, my sister-in-law received some help from the church, and she introduced me to them. When the person from the church visited us here for the first time, I was in a miserable situation. My old washing machine was broken and so was my fridge. Actually, they were not even mine. Everything in the house belongs to my sister-in-law.’

Fatimah’s sister-in-law was in South Lebanon with her family, but because of the current cross-border conflict with Israel that is affecting that region, they have been forced to flee again. This time they have gone back to Syria. ‘She gave me the carpets, heater, mattresses and fridge to use for now,’ says Fatimah, 'but as soon as she settles back in Syria, she will need them. I don’t know what I will do then.’

‘I was very grateful for the church and for everyone who was involved in helping.’
Fatimah, refugee, Lebanon

Warmth and food

‘Since I met the church, they have been helping me with anything they have available: for example, they frequently give me fresh vegetables. In the past, I also received a hygiene kit, and this winter, I received fuel for heating to help us stay warm. It is very cold here; we all sleep in one room on the mattresses near the heater.

‘Before I started receiving help from the UN, the church [Tearfund’s local partner] also helped me with food parcels for nine months, which helped me a lot. The parcels included oil, ghee, spices, pasta, flour, lentils, chickpeas, rice, sugar, tomato paste, tuna and sardines. I was very grateful for them, for the church and for everyone who was involved in helping. It even enabled me to save some money and make an initial payment for a washing machine. Now, I am paying monthly instalments to cover its full cost.’

‘‘I wish everyone was like the people at the church. I have never before in my life met anyone who has the mercy and compassion that these Christians have. What I see in this church, I have never seen in my community or my family.’
Fatimah, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

Cultural strain

‘Many Lebanese people don’t like Syrians because of the problems and incidents that happened in the past. I have no connection with that situation – none of my relatives, or siblings were involved in that war. But, we are paying the price for the mistakes of others. A Lebanese woman I know used to hate Syrians, but when she got to know me and spent time with me, she changed her perspective towards us. I hear a lot of people saying bad things about us, but I try to ignore them.

‘I wish everyone was like the people at the church. I have never before in my life met anyone who has the mercy and compassion that these Christians have. What I see in this church, I have never seen in my community or my family.’

35.3 million refugees

The UN refugee agency reports that there are now 35.3 million refugees around the world, with a further 62.5 million people internally displaced**. 

Many of these people, whose lives have been affected with devastating impact, are in places where Tearfund works. If you would like to help support us and our local partners so that we can continue to make a difference in the lives of people like Fatimah and her children, please donate here.

*Name has been changed for protection.

**What is an IDP/refugee?

People who have been forced to flee their homes and find safety in other places within the country are often referred to as internally displaced persons (IDPs). Refugees are those who seek safety across country borders.

Pray for refugees

    • Lift up people like Fatimah who have been forced to flee, leaving their homes behind because of violence and conflict. Ask God to bring peace so that people can return to the places they long to go home to. 
    • Pray for refugees who have often experienced or witnessed extremely traumatic events. Ask God to bring them comfort and to heal their psychological and emotional pain.
    • Pray for God’s provision for people who have lost everything and find themselves in contexts where it is difficult for them to make a living and provide for their essential needs. Ask that they will have shelter, food, education and that they will receive kindness from those around them.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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