• Eunice Stoltz

A Bordered Generation

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996), protects the rights of all people in the country, including non-nationals.

Despite this, there are still numerous challenges that non-nationals have to deal with within the country. This includes limited access to opportunities, poverty, inequality, and in some instances, xenophobic violence. As the coronavirus infections increased, the South African government announced the National State of Disaster on 15 March 2020, forcing already vulnerable residents, regardless of their national status, to their knees.

Lotte Manicom, the Advocacy Communications Officer at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, South African citizens, refugees and permanent residents can apply for a grant at the South African Social Security Agency, SASSA. In the most recent events of COVID-19, they are also eligible to apply for the Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRD). This gives them access to an R350 grant for a period of six months.

The Pretoria High Court recently ruled that non-citizens who hold asylum-seeker status or special permit status can also apply for the SRD grant if their documents were valid at the start of the National State of Disaster. This is an important victory as it aligns with The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, and more so contributes to equality to all of the Rainbow Nation.

Lebanon, in the Middle East, has the highest per capita proportion of refugees in the world, where 1 out of 4 people in Lebanon are refugees. In stark contrast with South Africa, the Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) writes in their article, Dignity and displaced Syrians in Lebanon, that the Lebanese Constitution prohibits the permanent settlement of foreigners on its territory. This iterates Lebanon’s stance towards refugees and paints a dull backdrop for refugees in this country.


A limited view of the Bekaa Valley in Libanon.

The Al-Biqāʿ (Bekaa) valley, nestled between the Lebanon Mountains and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, plays host to Roman ruins, vineyards, picturesque routes, and agricultural lands.

Since 2011 the valley also plays host to thousands of Syrian refugees seeking safety, food, and medicine.

After the start of the Syrian Civil War in early 2011, citizens were forced to flee their homes. The war resulted in 6.7 million people displaced internally and more than five million people displaced across Syrian borders out of which 1.5 million reside in Lebanon.

Before the global Covid-19 pandemic, refugees in Lebanon faced immense economic challenges, where the average income per day ranged between $4-$20, and those receiving $20 being the minority. 22% of Syrian refugees live in informal settlements and collective shelters. Most refugees do not have sufficient access to basic water, sanitation, hygiene services, or infrastructure.

A few water tanks providing water for refugees in a refugee camp, in the Bekaa Valley, Libanon.

Borderlines were in correspondence with Lisa Abdou Khaled, The Public Information Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Beirut, Lebanon.

She confirmed that as of the beginning of July approximately ‘115 Syrians were identified to be infected with the Coronavirus. The vast majority only have or had mild symptoms and were required to self-isolate. Only one of these cases was identified in an informal settlement.’

For the UNHCR it is all about saving lives, says to Lisa.

“We are in the process of expanding five public hospitals with additional beds and ICU space to receive more patients. In total, we will cover the costs of an additional 800 hospital beds and 100 additional ICU beds. This capacity will stay behind after the crisis.”

However, the global pandemic is dominated by a far greater fear than COVID-19: hunger.

“Refugees in Lebanon are increasingly expressing that they consider the risk of starvation a greater threat to their life than COVID-19.”

Lisa explains that ‘food and assistance to cover rent and essential medical expenses are some of the most urgent needs that refugees express. As the situation continues to deteriorate, more and more refugees are having to go into further debt to pay for basic necessities.’

A woman carrying buckets of water to empty them on a bush of flowers in a refugee camp, in the Bekaa Valley, Libanon.

Before COVID-19 Lebanon was already experiencing an economic crisis. Vulnerable communities are now more dependent on external support and humanitarian assistance than ever before.

The UNHCR estimate that ‘at least three-quarters of refugees in Lebanon live under the extreme poverty line. Almost all refugees are now severely vulnerable.’

Lisa further states:

“This new pandemic situation is having a severe impact on refugees’ access to livelihoods and the ability to meet basic survival needs like rent, food, and medicine. This in turn is affecting them deeply. We see many in great despair and unfortunately, there were also suicides in the past months.”

Children looking after one another in a refugee camp, in the Bekaa Valley, Libanon.

The challenges adults face is also the reality for many of the estimated 1 million Syrian children who live as refugees in Lebanon. The trauma of losing a family member that might have been shot in front of you in a war-stricken Syria and the vulnerability of fleeing to a new country are just some of the extremes that refugee children experience.

Syrian Boys in a refugee camp, in the Bekaa Valley, Libanon.

With limited access to education and the need to survive, many refugee children end up picking crops in an already unwelcome environment: one that labels them as a ‘lost generation’.

Their childhood is subject to various borders. It’s notable in their status as either a refugee, internally displaced person, immigrant or asylum-seeker.

Despite these borders, a brief visit to a refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley will have you see that these young men and women are mere children; playfully running free, oblivious to the borders that are restricting them.

A Syrian Girl holding flowers in a refugee camp, in the Bekaa Valley, Libanon