Syrian Widows Face Harder Time as Refugees

17 July, 2014

From VOA Learning English, this is As It Is.

A United Nations study says women are now heading more than 145,000 refugee families from the conflict in Syria. The U.N. refugee agency looked at Syrian families in four other Middle East countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. It found that these women, their children and other relatives are trapped in a world of poverty, loneliness and fear.

A United Nations survey found that one in four Syrian women have been forced to flee their homes because of fighting. It says these women face the possibility of spending their lives alone, in exile. They do not have husbands who can help care for them and their families.

Syrian Widows Face Harder Time as Refugees
A Syrian refugee woman hangs laundry at a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern Lebanon on June 19, 2014.

This situation would be difficult for anyone. But it is especially hard for Syrian women who come from a very traditional, conservative society. In such a society, a woman without a man has no rank or standing. She could be treated as an outcast -- someone who is rejected by her community.

Life of a Woman Refugee

Melissa Fleming works for the U.N. refugee agency. She says these women are extremely worried about how they will live and support their families alone in a foreign country. Ms. Fleming uses words like "isolated," "vulnerable" and "frightened" in describing the situations of these women.

"Their biggest anxiety was about money, resources. They also felt very isolated - frightened to move around, out of the house. They felt vulnerable to harassment, vulnerable to attacks by men. So, it is the climate of being a refugee in many cases is extremely worrying and very tough."

The U.N. report is based on the personal statements of 135 women over a three-month period. The survey found the majority of Syrian refugees in the Middle East do not live in camps. Officials say the camps would provide them with a safer environment, meals and other assistance.

Instead, the report says, the refugee women live in towns and cities, in damaged shelters and rooms where vehicles are normally kept. Some women pay extremely high rates for rented rooms. It says only one-fifth of refugee women have paid work and many find it hard to get a job. It says many women face abuse, are subject to rape, sexual abuse and other forms of aggression.

The report notes only one-fifth of the Syrian women receive support from other adult relatives. One-third of those questioned said they do not have enough to eat.

A Mother's Choice for Her Children: School or Work?

Melissa Fleming says many female-headed households do not have enough money for food, housing and major expenses. They are forced to choose between sending their children to school or out to work.

"This is also another huge worry for these women. First of all, their children have seen things that no child should ever see back home in Syria during the war. They come out. They are traumatized. They have lost friends. And, the thing that they all want most is for that child to heal and to go back to school. But, they can't afford to send that child back to school. So, they send their child out and think hopefully this is temporary-to work. Unfortunately, children are also exploited. They are not paid very much and they are working long hours."

Since the beginning of the year, the U.N. refugee agency says it has been registering 100,000 new Syrian refugees every month. At this rate, it says, it expects the number of Syrian refugees to grow from the current 2.8 million to 3.6 million by the end of the year.

I'm Anna Matteo.

*This story was adapted by Anna Matteo from Lisa Schlein's report for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.