Number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon over one million

Total number, including unregistered refugees, form 37% of Lebanon’s population

Yehya Chaker Charkieh, the millionth Syrian refugee in Lebanon, speaks to a representative at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. Photograph: Omar Ibrahim/Reuters

Yehya Chaker Charkieh, the millionth Syrian refugee in Lebanon, speaks to a representative at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. Photograph: Omar Ibrahim/Reuters

Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 01:00

The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon has topped one million, the UN high commission reported yesterday, pointing out that Syrians constitute a quarter of the population of the country.

There are also an estimated 300,000-500,000 unregistered Syrians living in Lebanon, boosting their numbers to as much as 37 per cent of the population of Lebanon. The agency warned that this “devastating milestone [is] worsened by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point”.

Lebanon has “the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide” and is “struggling to keep pace” with the influx, estimated to number 1,000 a day. Agency chief António Guterres said that the flow of “a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering.”

He pointed out that the humanitarian appeal for Lebanon “is only 13 per cent funded” although the needs of the refugees grow exponentially. The agency has received only 14 per cent of the €4.7 billion required to provide for all Syrian refugees. Last week, a desperate woman with an ailing husband and four children set herself alight in protest at the lack of aid. She remains in hospital in critical condition.


Multibillion-dollar cost
The Norwegian Refugee Council reports that the conflict in Syria has cost Lebanon “more than $7.5 billion, with municipal budgets, infrastructure and basic services facing total collapse”.

Refugees who cannot afford the $200 a year residency fee for persons over 15 years are compelled to return home at risk to themselves to renew residency permits without paying the fee, the council said.

Syrians who have fled without identity papers or crossed into Lebanon illegally have limited movement because they do not have the proper documentation. The fine is $633.

Since it hosts 446,000 Palestinian refugees who fled their homeland after Israel’s establishment in 1948, Lebanon does not allow the establishment of semi-permanent camps for Syrians. Furthermore, a majority of Syrian refugees are Sunnis whose presence disturbs Lebanon’s delicate communal balance.

Initial arrivals were sheltered by communities in the Bekaa valley near the border with Syria or in the northern port of Tripoli.

While the more affluent Syrians rent flats, with extended families often sharing, the poor are compelled to settle in rat-infested hovels or unfinished buildings on the edges of Palestinian refugee camps. Palestinian residents of Syria fleeing the war compete with Syrians for accommodation.


Hizbullah support
Several thousand Syrians in the Beirut area and the south live in flats provided by the Shia Hizbullah movement, which also pays a monthly allowance and offers health care and school fees.

Syrians seeking seasonal work in rural areas build shelters of plastic sheeting stretched over wooden frames on sites rented from landlords who extract payment. Energetic communities build latrines, dig wells and steal electricity from power lines.

Refugees are putting great strain on Lebanon’s inadequate power plants, limited water resources and poorly maintained roads as well as its hospitals, clinics and schools.

Many hospitals and clinics refuse to admit Syrian refugees who cannot pay for treatment.

On mornings, Syrian men gather on roadsides and under flyovers waiting for contractors and farmers looking for day labour. Women and children, hired for agricultural work, are paid half the low wages men command.

Syrian beggars walk the pavements of Beirut: women with babies; male amputees; children selling small items. Syrian cars snarl traffic and take up scarce parking spaces. Syrian grocery shops, bakeries and vegetable stands without permits have been closed down.

Syrian families with daughters prefer to settle in Lebanon because men prowl the Turkish and Jordanian refugee camps to buy Syrian teenage brides who may be abandoned after short marriages.

The total number of registered refugees is 2.6 million: 668,000 in Jordan, which has a population of 6.3 million, and 589,000 in Turkey with a population of 75.6 million. Iraq hosts 220,000 and Egypt 136,000.