There are 850,000 registered refugees in Lebanon in 1,600 locations scattered throughout the country. Hundreds of Syrian refugees live in shacks that they have built themselves out of whatever they can find, including discarded billboard tarps advertising the Emirates airline and Sea Pros Yachts. Some of the shacks have been equipped with toilets and water reservoirs by a Lebanese charity called Sawa, but these are the exception. In one settlement, there are 33 families that have been squeezed into 30 shacks and none of the children are attending school.
Only about 20 percent of the 2.3 million people who have fled Syria’s civil war live in camps. A Syrian refugee camp on the outskirts of Baalbek in central Lebanon has one of the highest concentrations of refugees. The residents must be registered with the United Nations refugees’ agency to be eligible for food assistance, but only a quarter of the refugees have registered.
Most of the other refugees are considered “urban refugees” who have moved into various cities, towns or villages. The basic services found in all camps has been difficult to provide to the more than 1.8 million registered urban refugees dispersed throughout Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere. Jeff Crisp, a senior director at advocacy group Refugees International, “The Syrian crisis poses a real challenge for the humanitarian agencies, which are much more used to dealing with refugees inside camps, where everybody is in one place.”
In the past, the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations have moved refugees outside camps under the theory that urban refugees would lead healthier, more normal lives. While the camps often become crucibles of social problems, refugees in urban areas could receive aid while also continuing to acquire skills that would help them after their eventual return home. However, the scale of Syria’s refugee crisis has exposed the difficulties and cost of servicing a largely urban refugee population, so the United Nations now is pressing for the establishment of camps in Lebanon.