Today marks 10 years since the start of the Syrian conflict on March 15, 2011. Over 6.6 million Syrians have been forced to flee their country since the crisis began and there are no signs of sustainable peace in sight.
As a Muslim, I feel it is my duty to help others wherever I can. On February 11, I took a break from my work as a pharmacist contractor on the frontline of healthcare in Manchester to travel to Lebanon with the charity Syria Relief. I also started a campaign to raise funds to help Syrian refugees, many of whom live in cold tents with little food.
Financial crisis in Lebanon
Lebanon has been dealing with its worst economic crisis in decades. Imagine the UK pound has crashed amid social unrest and political disorder. Your money is now worth much less and the government has restricted how much of it you can withdraw from the bank each month.
In addition, food prices have rocketed. Your cash does not cover your daily costs. That has basically been the situation in Lebanon since August 2019.
I'm deeply concerned about the worsening situation in Lebanon. With the arrival of COVID-19, lockdowns and the Beirut blast, thousands of Lebanese people have been pushed into poverty. But compared to this country’s Syrian refugees, which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says are estimated to number 1.5 million, they are the lucky ones.
Lebanon hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita in the world, according to UNHCR. There was a sharp increase in the number of Syrian households living in "extreme poverty" in Lebanon in 2020 up to 89% from 55% the previous year, a UN study found.
Meeting refugees in Lebanon
In February, I visited the tent of an elderly couple and asked them if they worry about COVID-19. Their response was: “We're too worried about having enough food to survive. The only time we think about COVID-19 is the hope to catch it and die because there is more comfort in the thought of death than living like this.” Hearing this broke my heart, but, thanks to donations, I can cover their rent payment for the next year.
Another woman told me she had not eaten for 10 days. She was severely unwell but had no money for medical help. I was able to give her the support she needed, again thanks to donations.
I have seen countless children, who I am told have lived their whole lives in these refugee camps, who walk around in cold weather barefoot. Child labour in Lebanon is sadly on the rise. Thanks to people’s charity so far, I have been able to provide many children with winter clothing.
I have been overwhelmed by how many people have supported my fundraising. At the time of writing, I have crowdfunded over £125,000 on Just Giving. This money will go towards the costs of food, heating, clothes and rent payments for numerous Syrian refugees.
I am thankful because I know that the situation in the UK has been difficult for many people, yet still they have supported this cause. It gives me inspiration that, even in our time of need, we are able to recognise people in immeasurably worse conditions.
Please donate to my fundraising page here.
Zeshan Rehmani owns Manchester Pharmacy in Manchester