On the 3rd of April 2014, an 18 year old Syrian young man called Yehya from the old city of Homs became the one millionth Syrian refugee in Lebanon. According to United Nations, this is the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world, and half of them are children. The total number of Syrian refugees is about 10 million out of 22.4 million the total Syrian population, this means that half of Syrians are refugees. The war also killed 150,000 humans according to official data and I believe the number is much higher, 250,000 detainees, thousands of missing Syrians from all ages, thousands of injured and those who will continue their lives with disabilities.
Lebanon is already suffering from unemployment and sectarian struggles. The war in Syria has negatively affected one of the most vital sectors for the Lebanese economy: Tourism. It also affected investments and wages as Syrians will work with much less wages than the Lebanese. The increasing numbers of Syrian refugees also place pressure on water, electricity, education and sanitation services. Many children are out of schools and in the streets working to support their families. Many Lebanese showed generosity in helping the refugees by distributing aid and arranging residents. They also showed courage in helping the fleeing families cross the borders safely while regime forces shell civilians as they escape.
The large number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon impose huge challenges of UN and local Lebanese NGO’s. Several months ago UN announced cuts in aid given to Syrian refugees in Lebanon that are already not getting enough to sustain them with dignity as only %13 of the amount of humanitarian appeal in Lebanon is funded. About two weeks ago, a Syrian woman called Mariam Al Khouli set herself on fire in front of a UN aid center to protest the decision of stopping the aid it was given to her and to her 4 children as 3 of them need medical care. In hospital, Mariam said that UN aid workers made fun of her and they “burned her heart before she burned her flesh.” Many Syrian refugees are living in dire situations, they are renting places unfit for living like abandoned huts and yards. Many of them depend on charities for living, some face discrimination and assaults, there are reports of kidnapped Syrians especially activists. In an interview with BBC, Fadi Halisso founder of The Basmeh & Zeitooneh initiative said that “People are afraid to register with UNHCR as some names are leaked to Syrian authority and they afraid of retaliation if they go back home.” One Syrian refugee said that Lebanon is not safe for refugees because at this stage it is part of the regime.” Till today Lebanon refuse to recognize them as refugees, and in my opinion this is due to the fact that Lebanon is not totally free from the Syrian effect as Syrian regime’s well armed ally Hezbollah is in a struggle to tighten its grip on Lebanon. Adding insult to injury, on the 7th of April 2014 UN announced that it has to cut food rations to Syrians by %20 due to lack of donors funds.
Hearing this makes one wonder what to do if UN is unable to respond effeciently to this tragedy! There is still faith in the goodness of people.
I will end my article by the words of UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres when he said that Syria had become “a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.”
Picture: NY Times