“When I bid goodbye to him, tears brimming in my eyes, I thought it would be a matter of months before we saw each other,” Fatima told Al Jazeera. “Now, more than two years later, I have learned how to cope with the indefinite wait.”
Fatima, who did not provide a last name, was married for less than a year before having to part with her husband, who remains in Syria. A majority of the people who now live around her in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley – at a refugee settlement where she moved in 2012 – are women and children.
In a nearby tent, mattresses are covered with blue plastic sheets, but the tent is still imbued with the smell of recent, persistent downpours. Harsh winter storms and freezing temperatures throughout the region have claimed the lives of several people, including two young children.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who fled their country are grappling for survival in Lebanon, with no resolution in sight. And starting on January 5, Lebanon began a mandatory visa requirement for all Syrians entering the country – a measure that threatens to further sever families on different sides of the border.
According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global humanitarian aid organisation, the voices of female refugees have been stifled due to an increasing burden of meeting basic needs. In a recent report drawing on more than 70,000 interviews with female refugees, the IRC found a trend of “sexual exploitation and harassment, domestic violence, and early and forced marriage”. Last year, the UN refugee agency found that more than 145,000 Syrian refugee women were “fighting for survival” and caught in a spiral of poverty, isolation and fear; by the start of this year, local organisations projected that number to surpass 200,000 in Lebanon alone.