The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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October 2, 2015

The Daily Star - Lebanon a refuge for domestically abused Syrian women, October 02, 2015

Mat Nashed

The 30-year-old mother of seven with a gray headscarf nurses a swollen bruise under her left eye. She is the first of two wives whose husband often beat her in Syria before the civil war. Although she pleaded to her parents for protection, she was told they wouldn’t allow her to have a divorce since she already had children.

“I begged him to stop,” said Noura, who did not want to give her real name, while tilting her head down. “But sometimes, he would start to abuse our children too.”

In 2012, with the war in Syria spiraling deeper into turmoil, Noura fled to Beirut with her husband and children. And while they were then safe from armed conflict, the abuse from her spouse became unbearable to endure.

Previously accustomed to withstanding blows to the face, Noura’s husband began stabbing her arms with his house keys and strangling her by her headscarf. But while she longed to escape, she relied on him to renew her legal status.

In Lebanon, refugee women can only renew their stay after their spouse does so first.

Three years later, Noura was torn between staying with her children and visiting her widowed mother in Syria who was dying from cancer.

Her husband told her to leave, and she did: only to later realize that she couldn’t return.

At the break of this year, Lebanon issued new visa regulations for Syrian nationals. Struggling to cope with over 1.2 million refugees, the country only allowed unaccompanied minors and persons living with disabilities to enter as a “displaced person.” Those escaping armed conflict had no recourse, pushing thousands like Noura to cross irregularly.

Noura is one of thousands of Syrians who have suffered from domestic violence. And while no data exists to indicate the magnitude of the matter, recent visa restrictions have compounded the risks for women and children.

Fadi Mousa, a legal counselor for Caritas Lebanon, said that women without legal status were at a significant disadvantage when pressing charges against their perpetrator.

“Women without status are afraid to be arrested if they report any kind of abuse to the police,” he told The Daily Star. “We represent those who come to us [Caritas] instead, but because they can’t testify in court without legal status, victims of abuse are at major disadvantage.”

To maneuver around this issue, Caritas represents women in family courts to get a divorce. But even if one is granted, women can’t register their new marital status without first acquiring legal stay in the country.

Maya Boudagher, a social worker with Caritas, said that women who were unable to register a divorce also couldn’t pursue custody of their children.

“Ninety percent of the women in our shelters want to be resettled to Europe, and they meet the criteria to be resettled,” Boudagher said. “But none of them will ever leave their children behind.”

Noura for one certainly couldn’t. After returning to Lebanon unofficially, her only goal was to rescue her children. Waiting until her husband left for work, she entered the household for the very last time. That day, she did what she couldn’t do for 13 years: She left her husband and never returned.

“I got married when I was 16,” said Noura, while clutching her eldest child.

“Sometimes I think that the war was OK for me because it allowed me to escape from my husband.”

While the Syrian war has resulted in the deaths of over 220,000 people and displaced over half the population, Boudagher said that the collapse of Noura’s prewar environment enabled her to access help without fearing repercussions from her community.

But for most refugee families, war and displacement have triggered a sharp rise in domestic violence. Unable to assume their conventional gender role by providing for their family, men of the household are more likely to negatively cope with their anxiety by becoming abusive.

Saja Michael, the emergency response program associate for ABAAD, a local NGO engaging men and boys to end violence against women, said that organizations who only work with women were missing the bigger picture.

“Men often see themselves as ‘protectors’ of the household and some try to preserve this image by inflicting violence on their families,” Michael told The Daily Star.

“Our overall approach is to try to make men reconsider traditional ideas of masculinity.”

Noura’s husband worked more to finance his brother’s militia in Syria than to support his family in exile. Once his brother died in battle, he became much more violent at home. Afraid that her husband would track her down, Noura refuses to leave the premises of the safe house.

Hiding behind the stone walls of the shelter, she contemplates how she’ll pick up the pieces to her life on her own.

“We need to be resettled,” Noura said as she stared despondently at her oldest son. “I’m so afraid he’ll find us. I’m afraid my husband will hurt my children again.”

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