Diakonia - People change the world
Hanan and Sham 18-year-old Hanan, together with her mother Sham in Lebanon.

A new beginning

“We left our home and our memories in Damascus”, says 41-year-old Sham who fled Syria with her husband and five kids. But legal aid helped this Palestinian family to residency permits thus enabling the children to resume their education and to sit for official examinations

 “I want to transmit the sorrows and struggles of my family as Palestinian refugees coming from Syria, thus echoing the struggles of the Palestinians refugees in Lebanon,” says Sham, a Palestinian refugee from Yarmouk camp in Damascus.

Sham, her husband and five children escaped the bombing in Damascus five years ago.

“I did not know what to expect when moving to Lebanon,” says Sham.

Verbal abuse

Officers at the borders treated them in an inhumane way. Her 14-year-old daughter Hanan did not have personal identification papers because under the Syrian law, all Palestinian refugees residing in Syria under 15 years of age, hold a family registry. After being verbally abused by the officers on the borders, they were forced to return to Damascus after hours of waiting on the pavement without food or shelter.

However, the family did not give up. The next day, after retrieving Hanan’s ID, they succeeded in crossing the Syrian-Lebanese borders and reached Taalabaya in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

However, the family struggled to register their children in school. Due to stringent measures taken by the UNRWA schools and Ministry of Education in Lebanon, Hanan missed one year of education because according to them Hanan would not keep up with their level of education.

Drew strength from hostile environment

Sham and her family faced a lot of financial and psychological pressure. Hanan who is 18 years-old now was discriminated against and bullied at school by Lebanese-Palestinian students who considered her a failure and made fun of her economic situation. However, Hanan drew strength from this hostile treatment and made it to the top of her class through hard work, thus earning her classmates’ respect and admiration.

 “I did not let my classmates’ unkind words affect my ability to focus. I worked hard and graduated top of my class and this surprised my classmates who then stopped making fun of me,” says Hanan with confidence. 

Fortunately, and through word of mouth, Sham and Hanan were introduced to Diakonia’s partner Association Najdeh who provided them with legal and psychological support.

New Horizon, New Life

“A new beginning and a new life was possible now with the psychological support of Najdeh as well as their legal aid,” says Sham with a smile on her face.

Sham and her family, like many other PRS, had problems regulating their stay in Lebanon. They were on a temporary three-month residency permit. Hence, every three months they queued for hours in order to renew their permits.  These renewals for six family members cost $1,200 ($200 per person). Through the financial sponsoring of Najdeh and their legal support, the family received a long-term residency permit (renewable annually) and this enables the children to enroll in UNRWA schools. In addition, Najdeh’s psychological support helped the family, and the children in particular, overcome the bullying they were subjected to at school.

By: Natacha Moukannas

Footnote: UNRWA is an acronym for The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.