The number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon recently passed the astounding milestone of more than one million registered. The United Nations describes it as a devastating milestone in a severe humanitarian crisis. Experts estimate that Syrian civil war has left more than 150,000 people dead and millions more displaced.
Lebanon now has the highest concentration of refugees as a percentage of population in the world. There is currently about one registered Syrian for every three Lebanese and new refugees keep coming. The United Nations registers 2,500 refugees in Lebanon each day. That is the equivalent of more than one person per minute. The actual number of Syrian civil war refugees in Lebanon may be much higher because many do not register their presence in the country.
The flood of Syrian war refugees has severely taxed the ability of the government and aid organizations to help them. António Guterres, United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said, “The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering.” He continued on to say, “The Lebanese people have shown striking generosity, but are struggling to cope.”
The refugees have overwhelmed public services, damaged the economy and raised fears on increased violence in Lebanon. The same sectarian and political splits fueling the war in Syria have fueled gunfights between neighborhoods that support opposite sides in the war. A series of car bombs believed to be linked to the Syrian conflict has killed dozens of civilians in recent months.
Increasingly, the Lebanese see the Syrians as a drain on resources. Lebanon has not built camps for refugees like some of Syria’s other neighbors, so the refugees must shelter where they can, often in unfinished buildings, storerooms or animal sheds. Half of the refugees in Lebanon are under the age of 18. Only a quarter of the nearly 400,000 school-age refugee children in the country are in school.
Lebanon’s minister of social affairs, Rachid Derbas, called the breached threshold of one million “an occasion to launch a humanitarian and political call under the title: ‘Lebanon should not be left alone.’ ” The Lebanese government, the United Nations and other aid agencies say they need a total of $1.89 billion for 2014 to handle the crisis. Only a fraction of that amount has been given so far.