Media Centre - Media release - 1 May 2020

Syrian refugee girls are suffering as COVID-19 lockdowns cause shortages

Slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh

The pandemic is compounding the effects of Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in years as girls battle hunger and risk of violence

Girls in deprived communities in Lebanon have been left struggling for food and basic necessities such as sanitary pads as the COVID-19 pandemic unravels in the country, warns charity for girls equality Plan International.

An assessment carried out by the organisation shows the pandemic has severely impacted vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian refugees alike. However, it is girls and women who are bearing the brunt of the crisis and many are now without basic amenities and access to healthcare.

Over 1100 adolescent girls and boys, caregivers and community leaders participated in remote survey and interviews carried out in April. The assessment involved an equal mix of Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees to gain evidence about the unique risks to each group.

Colin Lee, Plan International’s Director for the Middle East said: “While findings are shocking across populations, our assessment clearly shows Syrian refugee girls are being hit the hardest in the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Among 35% of adolescent girls who reported they do not have access to menstrual supplies, an overwhelming two-thirds were Syrian refugee girls. Not just access, affordability is another issue that girls are grappling with. 66% of adolescent girls reported they do not have the financial means to buy hygiene pads. More than half of these were Syrian refugees.”

The COVID-19 pandemic could not have emerged at a more difficult time for Lebanon, a country currently grappling with its worst economic crisis in years. With unemployment rates as high as 40% and a national debt of $85 billion, Lebanon is in a precarious economic position. The country’s national lockdown, which came into force in the middle of March, has already disrupted family livelihoods.

Mr Lee said: “The pandemic is compounding the impact of Lebanon’s severe economic crisis and affecting the most vulnerable in society. It has made life much worse for vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian refugee girls who are now battling hunger, risk of violence, poor hygiene and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services.”

Lebanon is home to an estimated over 1 million Syrian refugees and more than 180,000 Palestinians. With a population of just 4.5 million, Lebanon has been hosting the largest number of refugees per capita anywhere in the world since 2011, which has placed a massive economic burden on the country and tested social cohesion to the limits.

“Syrian refugees live in the most deprived communities in Lebanon. The lockdown, put in place in mid-March, has severely disrupted their livelihoods, access to support and is putting vulnerable children – particularly adolescent girls at great risk,” said Mr Lee.

The study highlights the extreme survival challenges Syrian refugees are facing in light of COVID-19 pandemic. 64% of caregivers surveyed said they did not have enough food to last the next two weeks. Among these, two-thirds were Syrian refugees.

The survey also reveals that not being able to go back to school, being homebound, and worries around lack of food, were three main stress factors for adolescent girls across Lebanese and Syrian refugee communities.

Other findings include:

51% of the adolescent girls interviewed reported an increase in time spent doing household chores, compared to 20% of adolescent boys

37% of adult respondents considered that domestic violence and intimate partner violence was a main protection risk faced by women and girls

83% of women reported not accessing sexual and reproductive health services due to fear of COVID-19 transmission

Since 2017, Plan International has been working in partnership with local, national and international organisations to strengthen capacities and address the needs of both Lebanese citizens and refugee children in Lebanon.

Plan International Lebanon has developed a robust COVID-19 response plan to address the most urgent needs of vulnerable groups in the country – particularly children and adolescent girls. The organisation will focus on child protection and education, as well as COVID-19 hygiene and awareness-raising measures.

Donate to Plan International’s COVID-19 appeal and find out more about our response here.

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