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Harassment and humiliation in Lebanon: 'If I get into a cab, the driver will try to touch me'

Female refugees living in the country have spoken of sexual harassment and attempts by men to exploit them.

Image: taxi image via Shutterstock

FEMALE REFUGEES LIVING in Lebanon have described examples of worrying sexual harassment and attempts to exploit them.

A report released by Amnesty International this week details stories of women who have fled violence in Syria and Palestine, only to be met with sexual intimidation from men in the areas they have moved to for a safer life.

One Syrian woman, 22-year-old “Noura”, said: “The view of the people [about Syrians] is humiliating. Especially if you go and walk in the streets and your husband isn’t here, any other man thinks that you are ‘easy to get’ and asks you to join him”.

Palestinian refugee, 38-year-old Hanan described a bus journey in which the driver placed his gun next to him to intimidate her. In order to be allowed to get off the bus, she had to take his name and phone number and promise to call him.

He said he’d call me “Princess” and I said, “OK, you can call me whatever you like”. I even thought to myself that, if things went to the extreme and I wasn’t able to get away, I would just give him whatever he wanted as long as he didn’t hurt my daughters.

I waited to complain until I reached Shatila police station in Beirut. I was really angry but they told me, “Do you know that you’re not eligible to present a complaint? You don’t have legal status”. And then they said in a sarcastic way, “Why did he come up to you and harass you in the first place?

Last year, Lebanon stopped the UN Refugee Agency from registering any more Syrian refugees and introduced regulations making it difficult for them to renew their residency status.

This puts them in a position where they face arbitrary arrest, detention and even deportation because they do not have the proper legal status. It leaves many of them afraid to report abuse to police.

“Just because I am a woman living alone, if I get into a cab, the driver will try to touch me and I will hear a lot of verbal harassment,” commented 25-year-old Saada, a Syrian woman living with her young son.

Conditional

The report found offers of help to women often came with unwelcome conditions, like spending the night with men or marrying them.

Seven refugee women who spoke to Amnesty International spoke of receiving offers of assistance from Lebanese men but the offers were made, explicitly or implicitly, on condition of engagement in sexual activity. These conditional “offers” were made to four unmarried women or women heads of household by men who were aware that they did not have a Husband living with them. Three married women reported also receiving unwelcome sexual advances.

Aisha, a 33-year-old Syrian woman arrived in Lebanon in 2012. She lives with her husband and four children, one of whom suffers from a rare medical condition.

A Lebanese man once came and told me he would help me with official documents but in exchange he wanted to spend the night with me. Even though I was standing with my daughter, this man passed by and stopped to ask me this. It was 10am.
He was in a car, stopped and offered assistance saying that the centre is in Zahle and would I go with him. I said I’d have to speak to my husband. Although I mentioned my husband, he still proposed to spend the night with me and give me money.

“Last September, I visited the informal settlements in Lebanon’s Bekka Valley along the Syrian border. There, families are forced to rent a small piece of land where they construct a makeshift shelter without any water, sanitation or hygiene facilities,” Amnesty International Ireland’s executive director Colm O’Gorman explained.

“The majority of refugees from Syria in Lebanon are struggling to survive in often desperate conditions. They face widespread discrimination and major obstacles in obtaining food, housing or a job. For women refugees surviving in such circumstances can often be even more difficult, with many at increased risk of harassment, exploitation and abuse at work and in the streets.”

Amnesty International is calling on the international community to increase the number of resettlement places and other safe routes out of the region offered to refugees from Syria.

Read: Syrian refugee who sold pens on the streets now owns three businesses>

Read: Islamic State bombs also killed 44 people in Lebanon this week>

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