The ongoing armed conflict in Syria has had a predictably negative impact on neighboring Lebanon. Thousands of Syrians have been forced to flee their homes and take refuge in Lebanon, as well as the bordering countries of Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey. This spillover effect not only changes the dynamics of Lebanon’s social, economic, and political situation, but also creates wider regional implications. 

In order to discuss the impact of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the Carnegie Middle East Center hosted a conversation with Ninette Kelley, regional representative for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon, Makram Malaeb, program manager and representative for the Ministry of Social Affairs in Lebanon, Kamel Mohanna, general coordinator of the Lebanese and Arab NGOs Network and president of AMEL International, Panos Moumtzis, regional refugee coordinator for Syrian refugees at UNCHR, Diego Escalona Patural, head of the Cooperation Section at the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon, and Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center.

Current Trends and Concerns

  • Refugee Influx: Moumtzis asserted that the current situation in Syria is the most dangerous and complex humanitarian crisis in recent history, contributing to the fastest growing refugee rate ever recorded. There are currently over 1.7 million registered Syrian refugees globally. Over 500,000 are registered in Lebanon and an estimated additional 500,000-700,000 unregistered, making Lebanon the most impacted nation by the crisis. 
  • UNHCR Involvement: Kelly explained that UNHCR’s primary concern includes the Bekaa Valley and northern Lebanon, which are the most densely populated areas by Syrian migrants fleeing parts of western Syria, including Homs, Aleppo and most recently, Qusair. 6,000 refugees await registration daily, while an estimated 7,000 Syrian refugees enter Lebanon per day.  The UNCHR’s largest priority is allocating appropriate funding for the protection of women, accounting for 20 percent of the refugee influx, and children, accounting for 52 percent. 
  • Lack of Resources in Lebanon: In a country with just over four million residents, approximately 1.2 million Lebanese citizens are directly affected by the influx of refugees, Malaeb said. He added that Lebanon does not have a political consensus or the appropriate funding to provide assistance to these refugees and local municipalities on its own. This has resulted in increased pressure on infrastructure, public health, labor, education, rent, and security. He asserted that the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is no longer just a humanitarian concern but also a security threat with regards to health, employment, and stability throughout the nation.

Current Assistance and Funding Efforts

  • UNHCR: On June 7, UNHCR launched an urgent appeal to garner $3 billion, the largest appeal of its kind, Kelly said. It aims to prioritize these funds by targeting the poorest and most in need, while utilizing partnerships with other non-governmental organizations and international organizations. It has additionally established an emergency contingency plan that would cater to one million people, should the number of Syrian migrants to Lebanon rise exponentially.
  • Government: Malaeb explained that Lebanese government has asked the international community for $449 million in assistance through a regional response plan. The Lebanese government has created a national steering committee to coordinate with most government ministries to address Syrian refugee concerns. Security cells have also been established and replicated at national and local levels to work with municipalities in recording violent incidents, establishing a census, registering illegal businesses, and coordinating overall response efforts. 
  • European Union: Escalona Paturel affirmed that the EU’s goal is to provide a comprehensive response to prevent the the humanitarian concerns from spilling into regional conflict, while proactively assisting the Syrian refugees. He explained that the EU Commission has raised more than €850 million for the crisis, by far the largest donor. In Lebanon, €113 million is being allocated for humanitarian needs to Syrian refugees and affected Lebanese.
  • Palestinian Refugees from Syria: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has mobilized €11 million to tackle rent subsidies, education, and coordination of protection, health, and food for Palestinian refugees from Syria. The Lebanese government is providing 10% of support provided to this minority. 

Projections and Prospective Assistance

  • International Community: All discussants agreed that a strategic and comprehensive plan needs to be coordinated with the international community and regional countries to subsidize humanitarian efforts. Although the international private sector has mobilized funding previously, the Lebanese private sector has so far failed to do the same. Based on current projections, one million Syrian refugees are expected to reside inside Lebanon by December 2013. At present, 131,000 refugees are children, and this number is expected to reach 500,000 by this year’s end. Coupled with growing infrastructure concerns, additional efforts will be needed to shore up future water security and sanitation services.
  • Local Agencies: Mohanna outlined a plan initiated by the UNHCR for potential solutions, including a drafted emergency plan, an emergency back-up plan in the instance of similar occurrences in the future, and a reconstruction plan with assistance of the international community for post-war Syria. Efforts are being coordinated to promote job creation for Syrian refugees, allowing them to work in areas with low Lebanese capacity in order to maximize mutual benefits and minimize destructive competitiveness.
  • European Union: The EU is attempting to mobilize an additional €400 million to address the straining needs of host nations and poor regions that are most affected, added Escalona Paturel . With the assistance of the Lebanese government and administration, it plans to concentrate its efforts on education, healthcare, job creation, and basic infrastructure systems, like solid waste management, sanitation, and water supply.