BEIRUT: Syrian refugees in Lebanon will constitute more than a third of the country’s population by the end of 2014, the U.N. warned Thursday.
A report said that such a development would constitute a heavy burden on Lebanon’s ailing economy. The U.N. anticipated that the number of refugees will be 1.5 million by December, in a nation of 4 million. Some 53 percent of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are children, the report added.
“We call on Lebanon’s friends in the international community to share this collective responsibility by immediately increasing aid to Lebanon in a significant manner,” Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said, “so we can prevent the collapse of the economic structure and its humanitarian consequences on [Lebanon’s residents], as well as the security and stability of the country.”
His comments came during an event at the Grand Serail to launch the semi-annual evaluation of the 2014 Syria Regional Response Plan. The gathering was attended by a number of officials and ambassadors, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees representative, Ninette Kelley.
Lebanon currently hosts around 1.1 million Syrian refugees. The UNHCR says that more than $1.3 billion is still needed to reach the estimated cost of relieving the refugee crisis in Lebanon for the year of 2014.
“What worsened conditions was the settlement of most Syrian refugees in border areas already suffering from poverty,” Derbas said. “Their numbers exceeded the number of original residents in many places.”
“We are really facing critical and dire challenges,” Kelley said, warning that with the current level of funding the government would not be able to meet its target of having over 172,000 Syrian children in school next year.
Kelly warned that if the necessary funding is not secured, the UNHCR would be unable to launch a polio vaccination campaign for all children in Lebanon under 5.
Kelley also outlined that with such a funding shortage, 800,000 refugees would not be prepared to endure winter, and 30,000 people including Lebanese would not have access to safe drinking water.
Addressing donor countries, she said: “We need you to stand with Lebanon to ensure that more funding is secured.”
In May, the International Monetary Fund said unemployment in Lebanon had doubled to 20 percent because of the refugee crisis.
This flow of Syrian refugees to poor areas increased the supply of workers available, Derbas explained, decreasing aggregate wages and increasing demand for welfare services as a result.
“The number of poor people in Lebanon exceeds a quarter of Lebanon’s original residents.”
He also noted the consequences on infrastructure and the environment caused by the refugee crisis, saying it “has further deteriorated infrastructure,” especially “roads, electricity, water, sanitation services, solid waste and groundwater.”
Derbas said the Cabinet had formed a crisis management team.
“The crisis cell has made three key decisions,” he explained, detailing how it first revoked the refugee status of all refugees who visit Syria after their registration at UNHCR. The team also decided that only refugees coming from border areas would be allowed access, and that no refugee camps would be established inside Lebanese territory, unless an official permit was granted.
The Grand Serail event was also attended by the ministers of health, economy and education, Wael Abu Faour, Alain Hakim and Elias Bou Saab respectively.