Refugees live in terrible conditions

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The News chief reporter Steve Addison has returned from the Middle East where he has been covering victims of the Syrian war and the lives of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

Refugees in Lebanon are exploited in conditions that are close to slavery. They are grossly overcharged for rent in squalid homes and underpaid, having to work all waking hours to survive.

The living conditions many find themselves in are sub-human and, in the words of one refugee woman I spoke to, they are “humiliated and degraded”.

In rural areas, they face standover tactics from stronger refugee families and the threat of IS insurgents.

Woman are encouraged by local gangs to become prostitutes as a means to earning more money.

Police and army often raid the camps and there is a climate of fear and mistrust.

Many of the refugees I spoke to were wary of the United Nations and non-government organisations, who they say drive nice white four-wheel-drives and live in fancy hotels while doing little to help.

In Jordan, conditions are substantially better, with UNHCR camps proving a level of security and comfort for refugees. However, within these camps there are great disparities and women without adult males in their families are living in poverty on the margins of the camps.

Among poorer refugees there is little school attendance, as children work to help support their families, and less access to care through a lack of confidence and knowledge of how to seek help.

One case that haunts me is 7-year-old Sham Ahmad Al Morjan, who is completely disabled by cerebral palsy and lives in Zaatari Refugee Camp, a makeshift home to 80,000 refugees near the Syrian border. She has no access to any kind of therapy or special assistance and her parents work hard to buy her anti-convulsion medication and healthy food. She can do little except lie on a mattress inside their caravan home.

I have undertaken to find support for Sham from within New Zealand and would welcome any assistance from Central Otago community groups.

Her mother broke down in tears when we discussed this, saying the situation for Sham was “hopeless”. Before the family fled the civil war, she had been receiving specialist treatment in Syria.