Yahya, a young man from Homs, Syria, unexpectedly became international news when he registered as the one-millionth Syrian refugee in Lebanon. The United Nations described this as a “devastating milestone” in the last three years of conflict. Another 2,500 refugees register every day, and it is estimated that another half-million unregistered are residing within the country.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative Ninette Kelley explained by publicizing the one-millionth refugee the U.N. wants “the world to see what it means to individuals, being torn apart by the Syrian conflict,” but also to “show what a tremendous burden the Lebanese people are bearing.”
Lebanon has a population of only four million, making it the country with the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world. Having a volatile history of its own, the Lebanese government foreshadows that this rapid influx could have dangerous consequences. UNHCR Antonio Guterres has stated, “The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering.”
A total of 2.6 million refugees have fled Syria to Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, meaning that soon, Afghans might not be the world’s largest refugee population anymore. Turkey, Iraq and Jordan have allocated land for the refugees, something the Lebanese government has not imitated. This means that the Syrian refugees in Lebanon often live in appalling slum-like conditions. It is typical to find people living in underground parking garages and under bridges where there’s no running water, electricity or sanitation.
Nearly half the refugees are children, and there are now more school-aged refugees than Lebanese children in state schools.
Aid workers have been restricted to dealing with only the most dire and extreme cases among refugees because the 2014 appeal for $1.7 million has only been 14 percent funded. “International support to government institutions and local communities is at a level that, although slowly increasing, is totally out of proportion with what is needed,” Guterres said.
– Lydia Caswell