How serious is Lebanon's Syrian refugee crisis? Imagine 80 million Mexicans flooding U.S. -- in 18 months

 

McClatchy Foreign Staff

The influx of nearly 1 million Syrian refugees into Lebanon -- equal to 25 percent of Lebanon's population -- is stirring social tensions and putting mounting pressure on public services and the fragile economy, a senior U.N. official warned Tuesday.

It is imperative that the international community "helps to bear the brunt of the pressure on Lebanon," the official, Ross Mountain, said.

"Lebanon is the largest per capita recipient of refugees anywhere in the world," said Mountain, the U.N. resident humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon.

"This is equivalent to 80 million Mexicans arriving in the U.S. in 18 months," he added.

Mountain, 69, a New Zealand national, has been a U.N. representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, East Timor, Haiti and Afghanistan. He doesn't see the end coming soon to Syria's refugee flow to its neighbors, who already have absorbed 2.57 million Syrian refugees, according the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. To date the agency has 962,000 registered refugees in Lebanon, 585,000 in Jordan, 642,000 in Turkey, 227,000 in Iraq, and 135,000 in Egypt

That flow will continue, Mountain said, "as combat continues in Syria."

In a similar vein, a report by the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council Tuesday said civilians are getting it from all sides in the war. Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the commission, said civilians "are repeatedly the victims of terror from car bombs targeting civilians by non-state armed groups" and from "the government campaign of barrel-bombing, targeting areas such as Aleppo city."

Mountain said UNHCR has projected that the influx into Lebanon might rise to 1.5 million refugees by the end of 2014.

"Unfortunately we are currently on track for that and that will be over a third of the population of the country," Mountain said.

"When you look at the growth of the refugee population from a trickle to a few thousand to now a million over three years, that goes far beyond the resilience that one expects of Lebanon," he said.

Mountain told McClatchy that the result is likely to be "exacerbation of inter-communal tensions" -- sectarian violence -- and "security incidents by extremists."

The refugees problem in Lebanon has been building fast. Last fall, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns warned delegates to a UNHCR conference here that "The scale and scope of the crisis in Syria is staggering."

"We are witnessing the world’s largest mass displacement in over three decades," Burns said. "The demographic landscape of the region is transforming in front of our eyes.

About 40 percent of Lebanon's population is Christian, while Sunni and Shiite Muslims make up about 27 percent each. But the vast majority of the refugees now arriving in Syria are Sunnis, and their presence will seriously unbalance Lebanon's carefully structured society.

Mountain said he bulk of the Syrian refugees also are coming into Lebanon's poorest areas: 225 "localities" have received 86 percent of the refugees, Mountain said. Those same communites hold 68 percent "of the poorest Lebanese people," he added.

Mountain said that UNHCR has sought $1.9 billion to help refugees in Lebanon, but that so far it's received pledged for only 14 percent of that amount.

The World Food Program, meanwhile, plans to assist 1.1 million people in Lebanon mainly through food vouchers, and a total of over 2.9 million people in neighboring countries including 710,000 in Jordan; 300,000 in Turkey; 290,000 in Iraq and 140,000 in Egypt.

Conditions are also hard for refugees in Jordan, according to a joint survey by UNHCR and the U.S. charity group International Relief and Development.

Dan McNorton, a UNHCR spokesperson, told reporters a survey of 92,000 interviews with refugee families conducted between June 2012 and October, 2013 found that refugees are struggling to pay their rent, that 61 percent of children did not go to school during the last academic year, and that 49 percent were dependent on humanitarian assistance and charities for their income.

Zarocostas is a McClatchy special correspondent.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
In this Picture released by the Italian Navy, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, migrants wait to be boarded on the San Giusto Navy ship, along the Mediterranean sea, off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano renewed his demand for the European Union to relieve pressure on Italy, which has seen some 100,000 migrants arrive so far this year alone. The country says it spends 9.5 million euros ($13 million) a month to operate the beefed-up air and sea patrols that were launched after more than 360 migrants drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa last October. "Italy will make its own decisions" if EU partners don't offer assistance, he warned in a tweet. The EU's home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, thanked Italy for its "huge efforts" to save lives and said in a statement she would meet Wednesday with Alfano "to better define priorities and provide assistance."

    EU to beef up border agency to deal with migrants

    The European Commission agreed Wednesday to Italian demands to replace Rome's politically unpopular emergency operation for rescuing would-be refugees crossing the Mediterranean with an EU-wide project.

  •  
Demonstrators with banners gather outside of the presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. Hundreds of Cypriots have staged a protest against proposed legislation aimed at helping the bailed-out country’s beleaguered banks collect on bad loans.

    Cypriots protest proposed bank loan legislation

    Hundreds of Cypriots have staged a protest outside the presidential palace against proposed legislation aimed at helping the bailed-out country's beleaguered banks collect on bad loans.

  •  
FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 file photo, a local Maasai tribesman places his hand on the tusk of a tranquilized wild elephant during an anti-poaching elephant-collaring operation near Kajiado, in southern Kenya. A human rights group says Kenya wildlife rangers are allegedly executing suspected elephant poachers to cover-up their collusion with the criminals. Muslims for Human Rights or MUHURI in a new report documents disappearances and extra judicial killings of 17 suspected poachers living around the Tsavo National parks whose elephant population has been hardest hit over the years by the poaching menace.

    Kenya rangers murder ivory poachers: report

    Corrupt Kenyan wildlife rangers are killing poachers to cover up the officers' collusion with the criminals slaughtering the country's elephants, a rights group alleges.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category