Airport closures have put Wafaa and her family’s resettlement on hold, but she hopes that once the pandemic eases, they can leave Lebanon and her teenage son can stop work and go to school.

After surviving 14 months living in fear and hunger during the siege of Eastern Ghouta in Syria, Wafaa and her family were grateful just to escape with their lives when they fled the siege and made their way to Lebanon as refugees in 2014.

“When we arrived in Lebanon, it was like we moved from hell to heaven,” says Wafaa, 32, as she remembered the day the family finally made it across the border. 

But after more than five years of deepening poverty and steadily deteriorating circumstances in Lebanon, familiar feelings of entrapment and despair once again began to take hold.

With Wafaa’s husband Mohammad struggling to find regular work due to an injury sustained during the siege, they are now forced to rely on the income of their 13-year-old son, Bakr, who works at a local supermarket delivering goods to customers.

“When I see my son working and not studying, I feel so sad,” says Wafaa. “I look at his friends who learned to read and write, but he can’t.

"He often comes back exhausted from work and asks me: ‘when is this going to end?’” 

Syrian refugee Wafaa pins her three-year-old daughter Yasmine’s hair at their home in Lebanon. © UNHCR/D.Ibarra Sánchez

One evening, as she was putting her youngest children to sleep, Wafaa tried to reassure them that things would get better.

“We were under a lot of pressure, we had to pay rent and couldn’t. I was joking with my daughters, telling them to sleep early as we have an interview at UNHCR the next day so that we can go abroad.”

To her surprise, Wafaa’s hopeful story came true the next day when UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, called her husband to tell them the family would be interviewed by Norway for resettlement.

The family was accepted and scheduled to fly out on March 23, but the outbreak of coronavirus and subsequent lockdown measures to prevent its spread, meant their flights were cancelled and their resettlement put on hold.

In mid-March, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced resettlement departures for refugees would be put on hold, except for emergency cases. UNHCR also scaled up its support providing refugees and internally displaced people with water, medical care and hygiene materials to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Bakr dropped out of school two years ago putting on hold his dreams of studying architecture. He now works at a local supermarket delivering goods to customers. © UNHCR/D.Ibarra Sánchez

Even before the outbreak, less than one per cent of the world’s refugees would have the possibility to be resettled.

That number is astonishing given almost 80 million people are forced to flee their homes and only 385,000 refugees are able to return home each year.

A new home in a third country remains a vital and often lifesaving option for some of the most vulnerable individuals.

Wafaa and her family recognise the postponement of their trip is due to circumstances beyond their control and still hope to travel to Norway when airports reopen and commercial flights resume.

“We put so much hope on traveling,” Wafaa says.

“We are still positive we will get there once this pandemic is over and airports reopen. As they say, after hardship comes light.”

Wafaa and her family are hopeful that once restrictions ease, they will be able to resettle in Norway and start their new life. © UNHCR/D.Ibarra Sánchez

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