In 2015, I interviewed a 14-year old Syrian girl, Hanifa. She and her family were refugees in the Lebanese town of Ersal. They lived in a small apartment but could not afford the rent. The landlord said he would be willing to marry her instead of accepting rent.
I couldn’t believe it as I listened to this 14-year old girl, talking like a 40-year old woman, telling me that she was prepared to marry this man to save her family. He was in his mid-forties and she knew that by marrying him her life would effectively be over. But she had no other choice because her father was ill and her brother could not work.
I am resigned to the fact that I cannot help every single person. My job is to highlight their plight
It was difficult listening to this child and watching her hold back her tears. She showed me photos of her cousin, who she was in love with. He had been killed in the fighting, so in addition to losing the love of her life, she had to marry a stranger to keep a roof over her family’s head.
After the interview aired, we received lots of messages from viewers wanting to send money to help Hanifa and her family. As a journalist, I couldn’t accept this, so I directed the messages to the UN’s office in Beirut. In the end, the UN was able to move the family to a different apartment and Hanifa didn’t have to marry the landlord.
The interview stuck with me because this girl was amazing in the way she handled the ordeal, and because it created awareness and helped make a difference. However –and I know this may sound insensitive - as a journalist your job is not to save people. I am resigned to the fact that I cannot help every single person. My job is to highlight their plight.
I’m also aware that a lot of people make up stories. This happened a lot when I was interviewing refugees in Greece. They would pretend to be Iraqi or Syrian but I could tell from their accents that they weren’t. When I confronted them they were surprised that it was so obvious. I understand these people have tough lives too, but when you know someone is making up a story you just have to stop the interview and walk away
photo courtesy of UNHCR