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UN Presses Lebanon to Open Syrian Refugee Camps


A Syrian refugee boy sits outside his family's tent at a temporary camp in the Lebanese town of Marj near the border with Syria, May 20, 2013.

A Syrian refugee boy sits outside his family's tent at a temporary camp in the Lebanese town of Marj near the border with Syria, May 20, 2013.

The United Nations is pressing the Lebanese government to allow a dozen refugee camps help resettle up to a million Syrians.

Despite a massive influx of Syrian refugees, Lebanon has been reluctant to establish camps for them. Many refugees live with relatives and friends while the majority rent lodging. About half are registered with the United Nations.

“They are meant to be transit camps that would help refugees who have no solutions inside Lebanon," said Dana Sleiman of the U.N., "who arrive literally with nothing but their clothes, who have no idea where to go...because we are seeing many people resort to these improvised tented settlements with no proper public infrastructure, where there is no proper water or sanitation infrastructure. So we are trying to look, with the government, at assessing large stranded sites where we could establish these temporary camps.”

Syrian Refugees by Country

Lebanon: 545,795
Jordan: 478,007
Turkey: 386,927
Iraq: 158,663
Egypt: 81,487

Source: UNHCR
The Lebanese government, dominated by Hezbollah, the militant Shi'ite movement and a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has refused to establish camps. It fears many of the mainly anti-Assad Sunni Muslim refugees will remain.

Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt called Monday for the building of camps for Syrians, but the idea has little political steam. Instead, Lebanese officials are considering limiting the numbers of refugees.

The U.N.’s Sleiman says Lebanon shouldn’t worry about a permanent influx of Syrians.

“If you talk to refugees, and I am sure you have, they say they want to go back to Syria as soon as it is possible for them to do so,” Sleiman said.

Having grappled for decades with camps established for Palestinian refugees, the Lebanese are skeptical.

A briefing note that a major international charity shared with VOA says the U.N. is "now using the terminology 'refugee camp' as opposed to ‘long-term transit site.’”

To many, refugee camps suggest something semi-permanent, something that would be expected to rankle Lebanese sensibilities.
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