Lebanon’s Growing Refugee Crisis

Lebanon1In early September, the number of external refugees from the Syrian Civil War topped two million and a little over a month later the number continues to steadily rise. The number of internally displaced civilians is also alarmingly high at over 5 million. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres declared that the conflict had devolved into, “a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.”  Lebanon has been received the most refugees out of Syria and is now facing its own internal crisis in in trying to aid the hundreds of thousands fleeing into its territory.

At the onset of the Syrian Civil War, Lebanon had two major positions in regards to the crisis. First, it would not become involved directly in the conflict and secondly, they would not deny entry to any refugees entering into Lebanon from Syria. Lebanon is a country of only around 4 million to begin with, and the UN tally reports that over one in three of all Syrian external refugees are in Lebanon. Thus the nearly 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon account for over one-fifth of the country’s population.

The majority of refugees both in Lebanon and in neighboring countries are women and children. Over one-fourth of the housing for refugees within Lebanon is substandard and housing prices in Lebanon are much higher than in Syria. More than 70% of families have at least one child out of school, and the language differences play a major role. (Syrian children are more often taught Arabic in school, Lebanese students primarily take lessons in French or English). Lebanese have opened their homes for many refugees, but such assistance is expected to last only temporarily as there is already such a great strain on the country. Furthermore, there is discrimination and conflict within the refugee community in Lebanon between Syrian and Palestinian-Syrian refugees.

(Much of the above information in the above paragraph was taken from an American Near East Refugee Aid presentation)

Concerns over the situation in Lebanon are growing and some analysts have already referred to the situation as nearing a breaking point. Infrastructure and food shortage fears have risen, but so far Lebanon has been able to marginally cope thanks to international assistance. A World Bank Report estimated that the effects of the Syrian Civil War will double Lebanon’s unemployment and cost it $7.5 billion dollars in cumulative losses by the end of 2013. Statistics are one thing, but what will be more telling is how Lebanon is able to withstand supporting such an incredibly large refugee population in the long run. While it is unlikely that the situation will completely break down in the near future, the strain of millions of Syrian refugees will test the stability of Lebanon over time. The longer that the civil war remains unresolved, the more and more Lebanon will have to rely on the international community in supporting its Syrian guests.

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