“My home is destroyed. It was burnt to the ground”

25 November 2019

A young woman with dark hair, photographed with her back to the camera

Wiam, 19, from Syria, was frequently beaten by her Lebanese husband and his family.

At a refugee shelter in Lebanon – run by an organisation supported by CAFOD – our local experts support women who have fled abusive partners or family members.

Wiam's story

“‘We have bought you and you are our slave, so we can do what we want’,” explained Wiam.

We met Wiam two years ago in Lebanon. She was 19-years-old and from Syria. She told us about the abuse she received from her husband and his family.

Before she met her husband, life was good: “When my father was alive, we were very happy.”

Since the conflict in Syria began over eight years ago more than 500,000 people have died. Sadly, Wiam’s father and brother were two of these people. After their deaths, Wiam went to live with her uncle.

“He came to Lebanon because he had to work – that is what he said. So, I had to come with him. But when we arrived, he sold me to a Lebanese man for $1,000 US Dollars and I was forced to marry him.”

Syria crisis

Around 1.5 million people who have fled the violence are living in neighbouring Lebanon. This now accounts for a quarter of the country’s population. More than 80% of refugees are women and children.

Wiam’s uncle fled back to Syria as soon as she was married.

The forced marriage was not a happy one. Wiam was frequently beaten by her husband and his family. They humiliated and abused her for two years. During that time, she gave birth to a son. But the abuse continued.

Eventually Wiam escaped.

She reached the safety of a shelter for women refugees and their families – a shelter run by Caritas Lebanon, a local organisation supported by CAFOD.

Learn more about how we are helping people affected by the Syrian Crisis

Over the last few years there has been an increase in refugees arriving at Caritas Lebanon’s shelter. Many have fled forced prostitution, forced marriage, or abusive partners or parents. The shelter offers refugees medical, legal and psycho-social services to help them heal and recover.

 A teacher writes on a classroom whiteboard in front of a table of three children

Children who are at risk if they go outside are given classes inside the shelter.

When Wiam escaped her husband she was forced to leave her young son behind. At the Caritas shelter she found out she was pregnant with her second child.

“It is very hard for me, but I am being patient, hoping that one day I will be able to meet my son again.”

Wiam knew it would not be easy.

“People say it will be very difficult to get my son back because, in Lebanese law, the father has the rights to the children.”

More than 65 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes. The impact this upheaval can have on family relationships is rarely considered. During moments of crisis, relationships are tested and strained. This often contributes to an increase in violence against women.

Rawaa's story

Another woman we spoke with at the Caritas Lebanon shelter was 31-year-old Rawaa from Iraq.

Rawaa, her husband and their four children were forced to flee their home in Mosul when armed groups entered the area.

After arriving in Lebanon, Rawaa’s husband became increasingly abusive towards the four children.

A young woman photographed with her back to the camera, facing some trees

Rawaa, 31, from Iraq. After arriving in Lebanon, her husband became increasingly abusive towards their four children.

“My husband couldn’t work, and he started to drink a lot,” explained Rawaa.

“He was beating the children and abusing them in very strange ways. For example: burning them or hitting them with metal objects. He couldn’t deal with not being able to work or provide for his family. This changed his behaviour. We lived in a poor state, and he couldn’t handle the situation here in Lebanon.”

The situation was so bad that one of Rawaa’s children tried to commit suicide.

“My daughter tried to jump off the balcony. After six months, my husband started to get desperate.”

“I have changed a lot since I arrived here at the centre...I don’t have the stress I had before. I feel safe.”

Rawaa, 31, from Iraq

Sooner or later, Rawaa’s husband left the flat and left his family.

Rawaa had to find work quickly so she could afford to stay in the flat and feed her children. For a year and a half they just about managed. Then, one month, Rawaa was late paying the electricity bill. The landlord broke into her home, beat her and kicked her family out.

Rawaa contacted Caritas Lebanon who referred her to their shelter – a tranquil spot about an hour’s drive from Beirut. They made it to the shelter. Unfortunately, the abuse experienced by Rawaa’s children left them suffering with serious psychological and behavioural problems. As we spoke to Rawaa, they were still receiving treatment.

The future is uncertain for Rawaa and her children – “I can’t go back to Iraq. My home is destroyed. It was burnt to the ground.” – but at least they are now safe and receiving help.

The family make use of the activities offered at the shelter, including self-defence, hairdressing and Zumba classes, as well as the IT centre and school classes for children.

“I have changed a lot since I arrived here at the centre,” Rawaa told me. “I don’t have the stress I had before. I feel safe.”

All names have been changed to protect identities. This article originally appeared in the Catholic Times.

Monday 25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Your donations help our local experts support more people like Wiam and Rawaa.

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