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Lebanon Struggles to Cope with Influx of Syrian Refugees

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2013 (IPS) - With no end in sight to the ongoing two-year conflict in Syria, both the Lebanese authorities and host communities are struggling to cope with the sheer number of Syrian refugees fleeing into the country.

According to the Beirut Institute – an independent non-partisan think tank in the region – more than 1.2 million refugees have now fled war-torn Syria into Lebanon, a country with a population of only four million people.

Furthermore Lebanon is projected to host 80,000 Syrian-Palestinian refugees and 49,000 Lebanese returnees by the end of the year according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The current Lebanese government has so far maintained an “open-door” policy along the Syrian border to allow refugees and those seeking asylum to transit into the country.

However, U.N. support notwithstanding, it has become clear that this policy is not sustainable in the long term. The UNHCR currently places the needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone at 1.7 billion dollars.

With the crisis across the border growing exponentially, the impact of such an increase in population on local areas has put a particular strain on Lebanon’s infrastructure, especially within host communities (those living closest to the camps).

In an Apr. 3 roundtable on “Ethics and Politics: Response to the Plight of Refugees”, the Beirut Institute stated that without substantial external investment from international donors or aid agencies, the current infrastructure in place in Lebanon will neither be able to provide adequate “shelter, healthcare (and) education” nor enough jobs to those with refugee status or local host communities.

In a follow-up press briefing at the U.N. headquarters on Jul. 8, former Lebanese Minister of Interior and Municipalities Zayad Baroud told journalists that “Beirut cannot be held solely responsible” for refugees migrating into Lebanon, stating that it “should not be seen as a purely bilateral issue.”

Whilst reiterating points made by the Beirut Institute’s roundtable earlier this year, Baroud also used Lebanon’s current caretaker government and worsening security situation – poignantly exemplified today by the explosion of a car bomb in a Hezbollah stronghold of south Beirut – as further grounds for greater international funding.

He claimed that “stability is about democracy” and security, therefore “the caretaking government cannot address the Syrian crisis (for long).”

“Humanitarian aid assistance to the refugees should continue, but at the same time it should be initiated in a way that addresses the financial needs of schools and hospitals, which today are under huge pressure. The funding to NGOs is not enough to help this crisis,” Baroud said.

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