Lebanon News

North feels strain of refugees, activists urge unified aid

Syrian refugees in the city of Sidon. (The Daily Star / Mohammed Zaatari/File)

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The waves of Syrian refugees entering Lebanon are taking a major toll on the north of the country, causing some activists to begin calling for a refugee organization to represent the displaced Syrians in Lebanon and minimize the effect of their stay.

As fighting between the armed opposition and the regime has increasingly shaken major Syrian cities, the number of refugees flooding into Lebanon has spiked.

Those waves of desperately needy people entering the country have begun to negatively affect on the region’s economy and living standards.

Many areas in the north have become so overwhelmed with displaced families that a number of Lebanese have abandoned work and moved further south, while aid organizations have had difficulty responding to increased need.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is now aiding around 35,000 Syrians in Lebanon and local activists say the total number of displaced people is approaching 90,000 people.

Slowed trade with Syria and Turkey has halted crop cultivation in Akkar, a development that has harmed business activity at Tripoli’s port, the second largest port in the country.

Unlike other countries that have established refugee camps, Syrians in Lebanon are accommodated by a combination of local organizations, NGOs and government aid.

Far fewer refugees fled to Lebanon than to Turkey. But the absence of an official organization representing Syrian refugees in the country and the government’s refusal to officially recognize any opposition organization as such make government intervention to assist refugees a difficult task, many refugee activists say.

As the Syrian uprising moves into its 18th month and with no solution on the horizon, thousands of Syrian refugees will likely remain in need of shelter in the country in the months to come.

According to the House of Zakat Foundation in Tripoli, some 1,100 Syrian families, about 5,500 people are living in Wadi Khaled, Berkayel, Halba and other Akkar towns. Others have also taken refuge in the poor neighborhoods of Tripoli, officials at Zakat told The Daily Star.

The officials at Zakat also said that there is one school in Akkar’s Mushta Hasan that has opened its doors for Syrian refugees. This summer, the school has organized a summer program for Syrian children. With the new academic year only two months away, many schools now filled with Syrian refugees will find it difficult to resume studies.

Most of the foreignsupport for Syrian refugees remains rhetorical, says a member of the Higher Relief Committee identifyinghimself as Abu Raed.

As the government-funded Higher Relief Committee faces a shortage of money, Syrian refugees have come to rely on funding from Gulf states.

The Kuwaiti Mercy Association is one of the donors.

Despite the association’s cautious attempts to keep its funding transparent, many Syrians are exploiting the funds by registering several times under different names.

Fearing that they might be targeted by the Lebanese government, many refugees refrain from giving out their real names to organizations that they register with.

Having a central organization to represent refugees would clear up lots of confusion in the country’s aid community, Abu Raed says.

“Under these difficult circumstances and under the economic crisis in the country, we are trying to provide aid to the Syrian refugees despite the absence of an official organization that is recognized by the Lebanese government,” he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 04, 2012, on page 3.




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