The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon – a Notebook and Primer

Young Syrian refugee boy selling flowers in Beirut. 09-Nov-2015

Young Syrian refugee boy selling flowers in Beirut. 09-Nov-2015

Cross-posted from my blog, Piran Cafe

NOTE: When I was in Beirut last month I met with country officials from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF for a briefing on the situation of Syrian refugees currently living in the country. It’s one that has reached crisis proportions in less than four years: Lebanon now hosts more than one million Syrian refugees (some estimates are twice that), representing 25% of the population. That’s the world’s highest number of refugees per inhabitant.

I was planning to write a more complete story on the situation there but time constraints and other work commitments didn’t allow me the opportunity to visit any of the refugee settlements to speak with and collect stories from the refugees individually and directly, so the story was killed.

But rather than have the information I compiled sit on a hard drive gathering dust, I’m presenting my notes here for the benefit of others who may find the data informative and useful. To reiterate: this is not a complete article, only notes based primarily on interviews with relief agency officials in Beirut shared here because they are timely and relevant to debates transpiring around the world. My thanks again to Lisa Abou Khaled, the Assistant Communications Officer at UNHCR Lebanon, and Luciano Calestini, the Deputy Representative for UNICEF Lebanon, for sharing their time and insights.

In Conversation with Lisa Abou Khaled, Assistant Communications Officer at UNHRC Lebanon and Luciano Calestini, the Deputy Representative for UNICEF Lebanon, on the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon

To most Europeans and North Americans, the Syrian civil war was little more than another headline from another of the world’s conflict zones. Until this summer that is, when the humanitarian crisis that has already displaced more than ten million people both externally and internally over the past four years began to more forcefully spill onto and into the borders of the European Union. Upwards of a million refugees are expected to enter the EU this year, according to the UNHCR – a four-fold increase over 2014— with the majority fleeing the violence in Syria, a war which has already cost a quarter of a million lives, leveled large parts of many major cities and towns, and rendered much of the country ungovernable and on the verge of total collapse.

Yet those figures dwarf the numbers seen in Syria’s neighboring countries which have been both literally and figuratively on the front lines of the humanitarian crisis since the war erupted in the middle of 2011. There are about 1.9 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, and about 630,000 in Jordan. But in relative terms, it’s been Lebanon that has been forced to absorb with the brunt of refugee flow over the course of the four-year war.

Since the conflict began, the number of Syrian refugees registered by the UNHCR in Lebanon has mushroomed: from 9,106 in March 2012, to 251,407 in March 2013, to 945,922 in March 2014 and to just under 1.2 million in March of this year. That in a country with a population of just over 4 million in an area smaller than the US state of Connecticut, half the size of tiny Slovenia and one one-thousandth the size of the US.

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