A 14-year-old girl who escaped the bloody fighting in Syria is being forced to marry a 44-year-old stranger in exchange for her family’s safe refuge across the border.
Hanifa Amar’s parents say they can no longer afford the $250 (£150) monthly rent at a house they fled to in neighbouring Lebanon.
The landlord has agreed to let them stay, but only if Hanifa becomes his second wife.
Wiping away tears, Hanifa told Al Jazeera: ‘My whole life is destroyed. I don’t want to marry him, but if I do my family can stay in this house.’
The teenager had hoped to marry her 22-year-old cousin, but he died fighting in Syria last year.
Instead, she now has to take desperate measures to help her family survive after they were threatened with eviction.
Her mother, Mysa, says they cannot risk moving into a tent because her husband suffers from heart problems and she fears her asthmatic son could die in the bitter cold.
In Lebanon, where displaced Syrians now equal one-third of the population, the problem is made worse by the government’s refusal to establish official refugee camps, leading to a chaotic, fractured operation with major gaps in coordination.
Many distrust a Lebanese government they deem sympathetic to President Bashar Assad and are suspicious of international aid organisations, making them hesitant to register with the U.N. refugee agency to become eligible for assistance.
‘Everyone, who comes here is confused and afraid,’ said Elyse Maalouf, a UNHCR worker in Zahleh, one of two registration centers in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where hundreds of informal refugee settlements have sprung up.
‘Many refugees are reluctant to register because they fear their names would be shared with the Syrian government.’
Her other son, who is 12, earns the little money they have by helping a mechanic, but this is barely enough to pay for food.
Mrs Amar said: ‘No mother wants to hurt her child, but we have no choice.’
Their plight emerged as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told yesterday how fear, confusion and a lack of information are preventing many Syrian refugees in Lebanon from knowing where to turn for aid.
With a constant surge of refugees now fighting the bitter winter cold, humanitarian organisations are struggling to find ways to reach them with the information they need to survive – and are recruiting some refugees to help out.
Of all of Syria’s neighbours, Lebanon has been the hardest hit by the exodus of Syrians fleeing their country’s violence.
Close to 1.5 million Syrians are now in Lebanon, scattered across the volatile country often in makeshift substandard accommodation.
Unlike in neighboring Turkey and Jordan, there are no official refugee camps.
From immunisation and other health services, to education and even basic aid to survive outside their war-stricken homeland, most Syrians in Lebanon feel lost in a world of rumors and misinformation.
The conflict in Syria has left more than 100,000 people dead and displaced as many as two million.