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Lebanon faces refugee crisis

19 July 2013

WORLD VISION /MARWAN TAHTAH

Makeshift: Syrian refugee children outside their tent in Lebanon

Makeshift: Syrian refugee children outside their tent in Lebanon

TENSIONS between Syrian refugees and host communities are reaching boiling-point in some parts of Lebanon, a county where, by Christmas, a third of the population will be refugees, a new report from World Vision suggests.

The report, Under Pressure, is based on information gathered from 180 people in four parts of Lebanon with higher than average poverty rates and very high numbers of Syrian refugees. It warns that the influx of half a million Syrian refugees has put a strain on local communities that is becoming "unbearable": "The initial welcoming attitude of many is turning to anger. Many people now feel that their communities are becoming dangerously overcrowded; basic services, such as schools and health clinics, are struggling to cope with the additional demand; security is deteriorating, and many people see no end to the current crisis."

Competition over jobs was cited as one of the biggest challenges. There was also a widespread perception that Syrians were benefiting disproportionally from the national and international response, while poor Lebanese families struggled.

The report states that many of the views and perceptions expressed by host communities are "starkly out of line with the reality for most refugees", most of whom are living in very basic conditions. One 27-year-old Syrian mother of six said: "If it were not for the food vouchers, we would die with hunger."

The report also notes, however, that host communities have been left largely without aid. It recommends that "aid will be most effective and help create good relations between communities when given to those most in need, regardless of where they are from."

The report also calls for better co-ordination of aid. A UN official told World Vision that one refugee family had a pile of mattresses but no food: "Occurrences such as these are fuelling resentment within host communities."

The report notes that the crisis in Syria has exacerbated "deep political polarisation" in Lebanon. It also highlights the country's history as a destination for migrants and refugees. Before the current conflict, there were already about 300,000 Syrian migrants working in Lebanon. The UN estimates that there are more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in camps in Lebanon.

There are no formal camps for Syrians in Lebanon, as a result of a decision by the government. About three-quarters of interviewees from host communities told World Vision that camps should be established, a "highly contentious" suggestion that, if implemented, could be interpreted as a political statement, the report warns.

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