One of the now 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon—the highest percentage of refugees anywhere in the world—wife and mother of four Marian al-Khawli poured gasoline over herself and self immolated in front of the UN headquarters in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Khawli, whose husband had been unable to work due to a medical condition, was propelled to light herself on fire after her family’s aid was cut off, according to the UN, whose dearth of funding was the cause.
“We got very hungry, Khawli said, “but they burned my heart before they burned my body.” Seventy percent of her body now charred with burns and covered with bandages, Khawli’s fate is uncertain. She may be treated in hospital for months if she survives.
Syrian refugees continue streaming into the country of 4 million, a burden “threatening the existence of Lebanon,” according to the country’s foreign minister last month. Khawli fled Syria two years ago with her family. The support—in the form of money and food provided by the UN since August—was cut off recently.
The problem, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees official Ninette Kelly, is that the UN in Lebanon “simply do not have enough.”
“We are able to do a lot with the funding we receive,” Kelly said, however. She referred to Khawli’s situation as “enormous desperation”—a situation shared by the whole refugee community. The UN had been in touch with Khawli’s family for many months, Kelly said.
The details of Khawli’s case are not known. Kelly did not elaborate on the specifics of the support Khawli was receiving, what had changed in the support, or how many other families were in the same straits.
The policy of the UN in Lebanon is to provide aid first to the most vulnerable. The UN also checks regularly on those families and individuals who are not provided with aid.
The UN has only received 14 percent of the $1.7 billion it has asked for to fund its work in Lebanon.
Khawli’s need for aid was evident in the needs of her family. The husband of Khawli had been burdened by a lung abscess that has made him unable to work. Three of her four children have a blood condition.
The war pitting Sunni Syrian rebels and Lebanese allies against Alawite minority President Bashar al-Assad’s forces—which include the Lebanese Hezbollah—has now lasted three years, in which time 2.6 million Syrians have fled the country.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon now account for one-quarter of the population—the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world. The challenges in terms of resources and infrastructure have left the country “struggling to keep pace,” according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Beirut. The host community is stretched to the breaking point, said the agency, noting, “The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country,” let alone the small nation of Lebanon, already beset by internal difficulties.
Syrian refugees have also fled to Turkey, where there are currently 600,000; Jordan, where there are 670,000; Iran and Egypt also host large numbers of refugees.
The war is also costing those in Syria. One hundred and fifty thousand Syrians have died—including 51,000 civilians and nearly 8,000 children—500,000 have been wounded, 17,000 are missing and tens of thousands are being held in regime prisons. The economy of Syria is down 45 percent since the 2011 when the conflict began.
By Day Blakely Donaldson