Despite the presence of at least a million registered Syrian refugees in the country, Lebanon has yet to authorize the establishment of official camps, an issue which, due to this country’s history with refugees, obviously stirs some emotions.
The government is now urging the international community to set up camps either in safe zones within Syria itself, or on the border.
In a country so small, the huge influx of refugees is clearly a burden on the state, and people are understandably concerned: The economy is thought to have lost around $7 billion already due to the refugee crisis. Unemployment has doubled to around 20 percent, according to a new IMF report. Representing nearly a quarter of the population, the refugee community is also putting a strain on resources such as water and electricity, which were already in short supply.
There are also political concerns, given that the Palestinian refugee camps across the country operate largely outside of state control. All of the male Syrian refugees have received military training, which for some is also an issue for concern.
But none of these are more important than the urgent need to meet humanitarian issues. Many of these refugees, who have been forced to leave their homes and abandon their entire way of life, their jobs and their communities, have also witnessed or experienced unspeakable violence, carried out by the most brutal of regimes. Hosting them in formal camps is the least we can do.
The international community must now work with Lebanon to create a concrete plan to manage the refugee crisis so that the burden does not fall to the state alone. A neutral body must be given the resources and authority to help alleviate the sufferings of the refugees, and the concerns of the Lebanese themselves.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 12, 2014, on page 7.