Loay is one of thousands of refugees benefitting from a program the UNHCR High Commissioner has called a “game changer.” 

When her youngest child, Loay, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Fatmeh and her family had already endured more than their share of hardship.

Five years earlier they were forced to flee the war in Syria, losing their home, possessions and community. Living in a tiny rented apartment in Jordan, Fatmeh’s modest life savings were soon gone and she began to fall deeply into debt.

Like two-thirds of Syrian refugees living in Jordan’s cities and towns, Fatmeh’s family lives below the national poverty line. Unable to afford daily essentials such as food, utilities and healthcare, the family was evicted from their home after Fatmeh fell behind with the rent. Then she received Loay’s cancer diagnosis.

But finally some good news arrived: Fatmeh’s family was assessed as eligible for UNHCR’s Lifeline program.

Lifeline is a means-tested allowance for the most vulnerable refugee families. Over 42 per cent of recipients are women or single parents. Around one-third have a family member with a serious illness or disability. 

Two-year-old Loay relies on UNHCR’s Lifeline program for life-saving medical treatment. © UNHCR/ B. Almeras

"Refugees know best what they need."
UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi.

Receiving Lifeline assistance made an immediate improvement to Fatmeh’s circumstances. She was able to pay for Loay’s radiotherapy and keep food on the table.

“The cash assistance is literally what’s keeping my son alive,” says Fatmeh. “Without it, I don’t know how we could go on living.”

UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi has called cash assistance a “game changer” for refugees. It has proved incredibly effective in Jordan and Lebanon, with recipients reporting that it significantly improved their lives.

“Refugees know best what they need,” says Grandi. “This will help them lead more dignified and normal lives.”

Fatmeh relies on UNHCR’s Lifeline program to cover the costs of her son Loay’s cancer treatment. © UNHCR/ B. Almeras

How does UNHCR’s Lifeline program work?

  1. Families call UNHCR’s Helpline to apply.
  2. A UNHCR representative visits the family at home and evaluates their situation. Only the most at-risk families are registered.
  3. Successful applicants open a bank account, into which UNHCR deposits money each month. Some families receive a one-off payment to cover emergency needs such as medical treatment.
  4. Recipients draw cash from their cardless, fraud-proof account via iris scanning at select ATMs. Jordan is the first country in the world to use this technology to assist refugees.
  5. UNHCR conducts follow-up home visits to assess the wellbeing of the family and the impact of the program. Evidence shows that 98 per cent of cash assistance is spent on basic needs including rent, groceries, medicine and children’s needs.

The UNHCR Lifeline program reaches 30,000 Syrian families in Jordan each month. But there are around 17,000 families on the waiting list for help. As they wait for aid, many of these families have no choice but resort to desperate tactics to survive: taking loans they cannot afford to repay, skipping meals and taking their children out of school so that they can work to help support the family.

Together, we can send a lifeline to Syrian families at breaking point. Please make a donation today. 

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