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Lebanon Wants Help Dealing With Syrian Refugees

  • Paige Kollock

Syrian refugees shovel away water pooled outside their tents after heavy rain, at a center funded by the International Islamic Relief Organization of Saudi Arabia (IIROSA), which provides shelter for Syrian refugees in al-Marj, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, January 7, 2013.

Syrian refugees shovel away water pooled outside their tents after heavy rain, at a center funded by the International Islamic Relief Organization of Saudi Arabia (IIROSA), which provides shelter for Syrian refugees in al-Marj, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, January 7, 2013.

The Lebanese government plans to keep its border with Syria open to refugees, but it wants more aid from other Arab states and the international community. To that end, the Lebanese government has called for an urgent meeting of the Arab League in Egypt.

Number of Syrian Refugees by Country

  • Lebanon: 177,654
  • Jordan: 167,959
  • Turkey: 148,441
  • Iraq: 67,720
  • Egypt: 13,059

Source: UNHCR
With some 200,000 Syrian refugees, Lebanon has the most people fleeing the continuing violence of any of Syria's neighbors. And with the flow over the Lebanese-Syrian border unceasing, the Lebanese government has called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo set for Sunday.

"Lebanon right now, a bit late, but … is recognizing the size of the problem, recognizing that this refugee issue may last longer than it was expected to last and therefore will seek assistance and support from donors and groups or countries providing support to the refugees," said Imad Salamey, a political science professor at Lebanese American University.

Lebanese have two main concerns about the influx of refugees.

One is sectarian. Because the refugees are mostly Sunni Muslim, some fear their large numbers will upset the delicate balance in Lebanon, which is a mix of Shi'ites, Sunnis, Christians, Druze and others.

A second concern is economic - that the government is not equipped financially to cope with the influx.

The situation is further complicated in that Hezbollah - a political and militant faction - has the upper hand in the country's legislature. Hezbollah supports the Syrian regime, an alliance which analyst Salamey said could hamper aid efforts by Western or Gulf countries to Lebanon.

"The politics of the current government may hinder significantly financial support, knowing that this government is largely sympathetic to the Syrian regime," he said.

Calls by some Lebanese political parties last week to close the Lebanese-Syrian border - or at least restrict the number of refugees - were soundly rejected. But those calls are likely to surface again as the refugees continues to stream into Lebanon.

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