The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon passes the 1 million mark

News Stories, 3 April 2014

© UNHCR/L.Addario
A Syrian mother gives water to her son in Lebanon, who is desperately ill with cancer. The influx of so many refugees has severely stretched health services.

BEIRUT, Lebanon, April 3 (UNHCR) The number of refugees fleeing from Syria into neighbouring Lebanon passed the 1 million mark today, a bleak milestone exacerbated by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point.

Just over three years after Syria's conflict began, Lebanon has become the country with the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide, struggling to keep pace with a crisis that shows no signs of slowing. Refugees from Syria now equal almost a quarter of the resident population.

"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," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "The Lebanese people have shown striking generosity, but are struggling to cope. Lebanon hosts the highest concentration of refugees in recent history. We cannot let it shoulder this burden alone."

The influx is accelerating. In April 2012, there were 18,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon; by April 2013, there were 356,000, and now, in April this year, 1 million. Every day, UNHCR staff in Lebanon register 2,500 new refugees.

The impact on Lebanon has been immense. The country has experienced serious economic shocks due to the conflict in Syria, including a decline in trade, tourism and investment and an increase in public expenditures. Public services are struggling to meet increased demand, with health, education, electricity, and water and sanitation particularly taxed.

The World Bank estimates that the Syria crisis cost Lebanon US$2.5 billion in lost economic activity last year and threatens to push 170,000 Lebanese into poverty by the end of this year. Wages are plummeting, and families are struggling to make ends meet.

Children make up half the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon. The number of school-aged children is now more than 400,000, eclipsing the number of Lebanese children in public schools. These schools have opened their doors to some 100,000 refugees, yet the ability to accept more is severely limited.

Local communities feel the strain of the influx of refugees most directly, with many towns and villages now having more refugees than Lebanese. Across the country, critical infrastructure is stretched to its limits, affecting refugees and Lebanese alike. Sanitation and waste management have been severely weakened, clinics and hospitals are overstretched, and water supplies depleted. Wages are falling due to increased labour supply. There is growing recognition that Lebanon needs long-term development support to weather the crisis.

"International support to government institutions and local communities is at a level that, although slowly increasing, is totally out of proportion with what is needed," Guterres said. "Support to Lebanon is not only a moral imperative, but it is also badly needed to stop the further erosion of peace and security in this fragile society, and indeed the whole region."

And while the scale of the humanitarian emergency expands, and the serious consequences to Lebanon mount, the humanitarian appeal for Lebanon is only 13 per cent funded.

Aid agencies struggle to prioritize equally compelling needs and target assistance first and foremost to the most vulnerable of a needy population. Limited humanitarian funding coupled with a steady erosion of refugees own reserves can have dire consequences. A growing number of refugees are unable to afford or to find suitable accommodation and are resorting to insecure dwellings. Some 80,000 urgently need health assistance. More than 650,000 receive monthly food aid to survive.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of children are out of school and the prospect of a better future recedes the longer they remain out of the classroom. "The Syrian children of today, will be the shapers of Syria tomorrow. We must ensure they have the skills to meet the vast challenges they are now consigned to confront in years to come," said Ninette Kelley, UNHCR's representative in Lebanon.

The government, UN and partner agencies have mounted an unprecedented response, targeting both refugees and Lebanese host communities. Late last year, they appealed for US$1.89 billion for 2014. Only US$242 million has been received so far.

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UNHCR country pages

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

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