Lebanon, Jordan bear brunt of refugee burden

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Syrian refugees are living in formal and makeshift camps in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

Syrian refugees are living in formal and makeshift camps in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

Lebanon and Jordan are among the countries bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis, relative to the size of their populations, a new UN report reveals.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Mid-Year Trends 2016 report, released February 27th, conflict, violence and oppression displaced at least 3.2 million people worldwide in the first half of last year.

In the first half of 2016, the report said, more than half of those seeking refuge "fled from the conflict in Syria", with most seeking shelter in regional countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.

Turkey has absorbed the largest number of Syrian refugees, with 2.8 million as of mid-2016, while Lebanon took in one million and Jordan is hosting 691,800, the report said.

By comparing the number of refugees to the size of a country’s population or its economy, the report brings the contribution made by host nations into context.

Relative to the sizes of their populations, it reveals, Lebanon and Jordan host the largest number of refugees.

Lebanon and Jordan also rank among the top 10 hosting countries across all categories – absolute numbers, economic contribution and per capita.

Until mid 2016, the report says, "Syrians were the largest refugee group throughout the world, making up around 32% or 5.3 million out of a total of 16.5 million refugees worldwide registered by the UNHCR".

Lebanon's heavy burden

In addition to those registered with the UNHCR, Lebanon is hosting numerous unregistered Syrian refugees, Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs, Pierre Abou Assi told Al-Mashareq.

The massive influx of refugees has stressed Lebanon's infrastructure and job market, he said, noting that the refugees themselves have become very poor as a result of their displacement.

According to UNHCR's cash assistance threshold, seven out of 10 refugees living in Lebanon or Jordan are poor or at risk of falling into poverty.

Lebanon is shouldering a heavy burden considering the size of its population and its land mass, Abou Assi said, and has produced a plan to address the issue.

The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017-2020 , launched in January, aims to secure $2.8 billion in financing for the year 2017.

The plan, which has been presented at various international conferences, calls on the international community "to help Lebanon strengthen its infrastructure so that it can cope with the consequences of displacement", Abou Assi said.

It is designed to help Lebanon handle the influx of refugees and support host communities via governmental response programmes, he said, adding that "we need to stand by Syrian refugees as well as by Lebanese nationals".

The UNHCR report is "a true reflection of Lebanon today, as a country that hosts the largest number of refugees in proportion to its population and size", economist Louis Hubeika told Al-Mashareq.

"Syrian displacement has created an economic burden on Lebanon, which already has created an uncomfortable economic and financial situation," he said.

Donor assistance needed

Lebanon has been opening its doors to people who have fled war and death in their own country, Hubeika said, "but the aid they receive from donor countries is not enough".

"[Lebanon] can no longer bear the burden of displacement, but is forced to until the picture becomes clearer in Syria," he said.

Various economic sectors have been adversely affected by the refugee crisis, and infrastructure such as schools and hospitals have been stretched thin, UNHCR assistant public information officer Lisa Abu Khaled told Al-Mashareq.

Some Lebanese schools and hospitals were already in need of rehabilitation before the outbreak of the Syrian war, she said.

As of February, she said, there were 1,011,366 refugees registered with the UNHCR, with the government estimating the total number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to be closer to 1.2 million.

In response to this situation, she said, "the UNHCR is working with its partners and in collaboration with relevant ministries to support refugees and host communities" by rehabilitating schools and upgrading hospitals and clinics.

Every year, she said, an international appeal is launched, with 40% of the funds going to supporting the infrastructure and institutions.

Donor support is needed to fund development and infrastructure projects for Lebanon in an effort to ease the burden on the country, she said, adding that the "Syrian war has placed a huge burden on the shoulders of Lebanon".

Similarly, Jordan has reached the maximum capacity as per the available resources shared with the Syrian refugees, Prime Minister Hani Mulki said at the Syria conference in Brussels this week, stressing that the crisis has stretched the country to the limit.

He warned that leaving Syria’s neighbours without the necessary support would lead to further spillover of the crisis and increase the suffering of refugees.

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Hello! They've taken all the support in return for renewing Syrians' documents. They have handed the affairs of Syrians to … for example, a Syrian refugee would need a Lebanese sponsor. Most of the Lebanese nationals impose huge sums of money, although they own companies and businesses. Meanwhile, the poor Lebanese are not allowed to sponsor anyone, not even a child. Is this fair? I'm just expressing an opinion. Why doesn't the Lebanese government impose the required sponsoring amount and then return it to state treasury instead of owners of companies and businesspeople? Thanks to all those whom it may concern.