Men On Hold: The trials and tribulations of male Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Men On Hold: The trials and tribulations of male Syrian refugees in Lebanon
Video: Canadian-Lebanese film director Carol Mansour highlights the difficulties faced by Syrian men in Lebanon in her latest documentary, Men On Hold.
4 min read
16 November, 2018
A Syrian man sits outside his tent at a refugee camp in Arsal [Getty]
Since the war started in Syria in 2011, more than 5.6 million people have fled the country, mainly to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. In Lebanon, there are more than 900,000 registered at the United Nations refugees agency, UNHCR. 

Highlighting the difficulties faced by Syrian men in particular, Canadian-Lebanese film director Carol Mansour decided to let them describe their experiences in Lebanon first-hand in her latest documentary Men On Hold.

"The media and NGOs speak a lot about Syrian women and children, but we don't have that much information on men," Carol tells The New Arab about her latest project. 

"They feel a bit 'castrated' because they were used to being the providers for their family, while their wife and daughters were not working. But now the situation is reversed. They are frustrated, and I wanted to show that aspect," she adds.  

Read also: History reflected: Memories of Lebanese displacement to Syria dismissed by Lebanese calling for Syrians' repatriation

Her new documentary comes five years after her project Not Who We Are, which focused on female refugees in Lebanon. Both have been produced in collaboration with the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

"When I finished working on Not Who We Are, I felt that it was also necessary to talk about male refugees," she explains. 

"I'm not for any patriarchal system, but there is something happening that is not fair and I just wanted to get both sides of the story."

Bashar, a Syrian refugee, injured his leg and now begs on the streets of Beirut. He is one of the men featured in the documentary and shares his story of the humiliation he feels. He talks about how his experiences have led him to suicidal thoughts.

Watch the trailer for Men On Hold

Such sentiments are common throughout the film, released by Film Forward Production in Beirut on October 12.

For some men, who in their country were land-owners or managers of their own companies, to then become low-salary labourers or beggars in another land, has had a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing.

Many men also spoke about their distress of being unable to work at all in Lebanon due to a variety of restrictions. In many cases, their wives have taken on the role of breadwinner in the family. 

"They feel like they are the ones who are supposed to take care of their wives, not the other way round. This has again led to feelings of depression," Carol adds.  

I just wanted to emphasise that the way refugees are treated in Lebanon is very unfair. These men need a safe space to speak
Many NGOs in Lebanon, both local and international, have focused more on workshops, grants and activities related to women and children refugees as they are the most vulnerable populations in times of conflict. 

Women and children are also less likely to be controlled at checkpoints by local security forces and are able to move around more freely than men. This gives them better access to work and thus places them as the new provider of their family.

"It creates problems within families," Ali Khedr, a Syrian musician, photojournalist, filmmaker and co-founder of a voluntary initiative called Syrian Eyes, told The New Arab.

"Most NGOs are driven by waves of funding focusing on different matters, and a lot of them are on women and children," Ali adds.  

"Women are given the opportunity to learn, work, start a business sometimes. They can earn money while their husband is unable to work." 

This has led to some men developing feelings of resentment or suffering from depression, Ali explains, adding that it creates conflicts inside families and adds more burden on women. 

"While making this film, I felt a big injustice, frustration, and a sense of complexity because these men are in a very complicated situation," Carol continues. 

"I just wanted to emphasise that the way refugees are treated in Lebanon is very unfair. These men need a safe space to speak."

Florence Massena is a freelance journalist based in Lebanon, where she reports on the region with a focus on the environment, women's issues, refugees and humanitarian initiatives.

Follow her on Twitter: @FlorenceMassena