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Large Syrian Refugee Population in Lebanon Sparks Social Tensions

  • Lisa Schlein

A general view shows tents of Syrian refugees on the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Arsal, near the border with Syria, Lebanon, Sept. 21, 2016. Syrian refugees account for 30 percent of Lebanon's population, the highest concentration per capita of refugees in the world.

The United Nations has launched a four-year crisis response plan for Lebanon it hopes will maintain stability and prevent an internal conflict from breaking out. It is appealing for $2.8 billion to get humanitarian and stabilization support programs underway in 2017.

The United Nations does not believe Lebanon is on the brink of collapse but it warns there is a danger the country could implode if the Syrian refugee crisis is not well managed.

Syrian refugees account for 30 percent of Lebanon's population, the highest concentration per capita of refugees in the world. Seventy percent live below the poverty line compared to 40 percent of the Lebanese population.

Few camps exist for Syrian refugees. Most live in host communities among Lebanese who are as impoverished as they are. The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon, Philippe Lazzarini, said there is a constant high risk of tension among the host communities and Syrian refugees over competition for services and limited resources.

He said it is critical that the international community continue its support for Lebanon and provide the funds needed to promote the crisis response plan.

“We do believe that it is in the interest, not only of the Lebanese, but of the region to shield Lebanon from the instability in the rest of the Middle East... Hence, the need to maintain the same level of support to the country. There is a risk always that if we loosen our attention, this might trigger host community fatigue... [and] social tension will follow,” Lazzarini said.

The four-year Lebanon Crisis Response Plan will have a strong focus on humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities, a necessity as most Syrian refugees are completely dependent on international aid for their survival.

Besides providing food, shelter, and other essentials, Lazzarini said the plan will work on peace and security, governance and social and economic issues.

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