Syria: Aid Corruption Worsens Plight of Syrian Refugees

Published: 19 May 2014


Syrian Refugee Camp in Lebanon


Syrian refugees displaced in Lebanon have to pay bribes to middlemen to receive humanitarian aid, reports the Washington Post.

More than one million of the total 2.6 million Syrian refugees are currently living in refugee camps in neighboring Lebanon.

The poorest Syrian refugees, who are unable to pay for housing in Lebanon, are also the ones most affected by corruption in aid distribution.

In their interviews with the AP, refugees from one camp in Lebanon said that shopkeepers, municipal officials, or local strongmen known as a “shawish” demand bribes ranging from US$ 3 to US$ 100 for services.

The services include expediting the aid registration process, finding jobs for refugees, and makeshift tent making. The tents then have rental fees.

Sabha, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon said that she does not have money to pay for the bribes.

“Where am I going to get it from?” she asks.

The shawish in Sabha’s refugee camp found a job for her and Zein, another refugee in the camp, picking beans every day. The shawish takes US$ 1.65 of the US$ 4 they each earn every day as commission.

Unlike Turkey and Jordan, Lebanon does not have established camps for the Syrian refugees.

Instead, dozens of informal refugee camps are run by strongmen with little to no official oversight. The shawish tend to be refugees who have connections to local officials or influential family members.

UNHCR representative in Lebanon Ninette Kelley said that the United Nations is aware of the exploitation, reports the AP.

However, she does not expect it to be widespread because UNHCR, which is responsible for most of the aid distribution to Syrian refugees, supervises its aid distribution.

The US$ 30 given to refugees every month does not prevent middlemen from springing up though. After the money runs out, refugees have to turn to other smaller charities that are not able to distribute the aid themselves. The middlemen who come in as intermediaries between aid organizations and refugees may take advantage of the situation.

An aid worker told the AP that since it is impossible to verify whether aid was properly delivered to a village, “now imagine for a million people.”