Lebanon buckling under influx refugees

2 apr 2013 by Jos de Voogd |
This Syrian family was taken in by relatives in the Lebanese village of Baalbek Photo: Jos de Voogd/Cordaid

After two years of fighting in Syria, the overwhelming influx of refugees into neighboring Lebanon is increasing the pressure on this small country by the day. According to recent government figures, more than a million Syrian refugees are now in Lebanon. And every week more than 10,000 more displaced people, all looking for accommodation, are adding to the problem because there are no official refugee camps there.

The statistics are not very transparent. The numbers include refugees registered as such with UNHCR, or waiting to be. But they also include people who are either not willing to register or unable to, as well as seasonal workers who didn’t return to Syria because of the civil war but, instead, persuaded their families to join them in Lebanon. Also included are Palestinian refugees from Syria and Lebanon who were permanently domiciled in Syria. At the moment, one in five people in Lebanon come from Syria.

With refugees in over 900 locations, never has a refugee population been as well concealed and distributed across a country as is currently the case in Lebanon. It’s making it difficult for the UN and aid agencies to reach those affected. So far, the Lebanese government is divided as to whether it should allow official refugee camps, one of the reasons being that Lebanon has struggled with a large number of Palestinian refugees for many years. 

"I’m slowly but surely selling all my jewelry. I have
just one ring left to sell."

The need for affordable accommodation is very pressing. In the north of the country and throughout the Bekaa valley parallel with the Syrian border, refugees are living in makeshift tents, barns, rooms and apartments, or with Lebanese families who have taken them in. And quite often they have to pay for this hospitality because after two years the local people have had enough. Rents, and the prices of building materials, have risen sharply.

Seen in this context, the Syrian family headed by 81-year-old Mrs. Souad can count themselves lucky. The family, totaling 11 people, including Mrs. Souad’s two daughters, their children and three great grandchildren, found accommodation in the small city of Baalbek. They are staying free-of-charge with a third daughter and her Lebanese husband. The Souads are a relatively affluent family; many of them worked as teachers in Syria.

No work

However, their homes in the Syrian city of Homs were destroyed, and because they have not been able to find work in Lebanon they are dependent on the income of their host family and on food vouchers handed out by aid organizations. Every person, irrespective of age, receives a monthly food voucher worth US$30. These have to be sold on for less than their face value because you just cannot buy meat or shoes, for example, with them in the designated shops. Daughter Raphde spreads her hands demonstratively: “I only have one more ring that I can sell.”

The Souad family has been in Lebanon for a year now. “Initially the Lebanese were very welcoming but that welcome has now evaporated. Every day we are told that we are stealing their jobs.” In the meantime, the continuing unrest means tourism in Lebanon has all but collapsed. Hotels in the north of the country, as well as those in its skiing resorts, are empty.

Somber future

The prognoses are somber. At the current rate of refugee influx there will be two million refugees in Lebanon by the end of the year. And if the “battle for Damascus” flares up, one million refugees could materialize in just 48 hours. Pro- and anti-Assad factions have been fighting for several months in the coastal city of Tripoli, and there are fears that the fighting will spill over to other areas. Meanwhile, aid organizations are struggling to get financing for their aid programs and the appeal of the UN has been subscribed by just 30 percent.

Whichever scenario follows, the pressure on the fragile Lebanese society is increasing and, as a result, there is a real fear of local escalation.

Cordaid is active in Lebanon through Caritas Libanon. For more information see earlier reports at: http://www.cordaid.org/nl/nieuws/ondertussen-over-syrie/[JW1] 


Alternatively, contact press spokesman Jos de Voogd jdv@cordaid.nl


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