It has been almost 10 years since the Syrian refugee crisis began, forcing millions of people to seek refuge in other countries. One such country, Lebanon, has taken in approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees since the crisis began. Other refugees include over 16,000 refugees of Ethiopian, Iraqi, Sudanese and other origins, in addition to over 200,000 Palestinian refugees, making Lebanon the country with the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. The large number of refugees has placed a huge burden onto the economy and infrastructure of Lebanon. In 2020, Lebanon faced rising political instability, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an explosion in Beirut, its capital and trade center. Damage from the pandemic and explosion has greatly damaged the economy of Lebanon, making the Lebanon pound lose over 80% of its value. Additionally, because refugees lack legal status in Lebanon, they are excluded from being able to work. As the economy declines, many refugees face unemployment and lack adequate healthcare.
From 1516 to 1918, Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire. After WWI, Lebanon was controlled by France until 1944, a year after a mandate was signed to give power of the government to Christians in a ratio of 6-5 based on a census from 1932. Bordered by Israel and Syria, tensions grew in the period from 1945 to 1975 between religious groups during the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East. They reached a tipping point in 1975, when Maronite Christian gunmen ambushed a bus full of Palestinian passengers, sparking the Lebanon Civil War. During the war, they were occupied by both Syrian and Israeli forces, but ultimately Syrian forces occupied the country once the war ended in 1990. Since then, there has been multiple assassinations of political figures, pro-Israeli and pro-Syrian sentiments on both sides, and Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim militant group, has gained great influence in the country.
Currently, the country is home to 18 religions, including Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Maronite Catholics, Druze, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Because of this, parliament consists of 50% Muslims and 50% Christians. The prime minisiter is a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian, and the speaker of parliament is a Shi’ite.There is a delicate balance between Muslim and Christian groups in Lebanon, maintained by not conducting censuses, so that the government can remain stable, even as religious extremism envelopes neighboring countries. However, the Lebanese people have criticized the system as outdated since it was based on the census in 1932 and demographics have changed since then.
In 2011, approximately 8 million Syrians were displaced from their home country due to an ongoing civil war between the people and the government. The Syrian Civil War created unsafe conditions for citizens to live in, forcing them to seek refuge in countries such as Lebanon. In a country where 1 out of every 4 citizens is a refugee and in some areas, refugees outnumber the residents, Lebanon is struggling to support their needy populations. The refugees have cost $7.5 billion dollars, a cost that continues to rise as the economy of Lebanon declines. This has worsened the tensions between religious groups in the country, as the majority of refugees from Syria are Sunni Muslims. Before the pandemic, the country was already in great debt, unemployment was at 25%, and ⅓ of the population were living below the poverty line.
In 2019 and 2020, there was massive unrest within the populations of Lebanon, as they had to deal with daily power cuts, unsafe drinking water, poor internet connections, and other problems. Protests took place when the government tried to implement taxes on tobacco, petrol, and WhatsApp calls at the end of 2019. Food was becoming expensive and workers were going on strike as wildfires broke out in the mountains, showcasing Lebanon’s poor infrastructure. Shutdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic in March showed the problems with Lebanon’s welfare and healthcare system. Finally, in August, the Port of Beirut exploded due to failure to move chemicals stored in the port. This explosion wiped out many buildings, caused hundreds of casualties, and completely demolished the port, one of the main economic centers in Lebanon. Citizens blamed the government for inaction and corruption.
Additionally, the Lebanese government’s restrictions and abuses of power have greatly limited human rights. A police state has formed in Lebanon as a response to the mass protests that have united the different religious groups. Citizens are no longer able to protest against the government for corruption. Protests have become deadly as soldiers have shot at protestors, and societal unrest continues to increase as people cannot afford food. Other human rights have been limited for a while now in Lebanon. Children with disabilities are excluded from education, refugees are excluded from participating in the workforce, and women continue to be diminished in the social and political realm.
What are the refugee populations in Lebanon?
With the 10th highest population density in the world, Lebanon contains around 6.78 million people, with close to 2 million people living in the capital city, Beirut. According to the UNHCR, Lebanon hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees, 200,000 Palestinians, and 17,000 refugees from Iraq, Sudan, and other countries. This makes Lebanon the country with the largest refugee population per capita. Because 25% of Lebanon’s population is made up of refugees from neighboring countries, it faces mass unemployment, political, religious and social unrest, as well as massive stress on its national infrastructure (healthcare, education, sanitation, etc).
Iraqi, Sudanese, and Other Refugees
% of Pop.
*All populations are estimated since Lebanon has not allowed a census to be conducted since 1932 due to tension between religious groups.
Lebanon is a small country located in the Middle East, bordered by the Mediteranean in the west, Syria from the north and east, and Israel from the south. Lebanon’s coastline is around 225 km long, allowing it to experience a moderate, Mediterranean climate, with snowy mountains during the winter, and mild weather during the summer. Most of Lebanon’s forests have been destroyed by years of armed conflict and a lack of public awareness. Lebanon’s capital, Beirut has recently faced an environmental crisis due to the massive explosion on the city’s port, causing water and air pollution from the hazardous chemicals. The aftermath of the 2020 explosion has left Lebanon with a huge water crisis and public health concern for the population.
The European Union has been contributing to the refugee crisis in Lebanon mostly through monetary investment. In 2017, the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) was created under the Lebanese government and the UN to protect and assist the needs of Syrian refugees.
Lebanon does not have a formal domestic refugee legislation in place, and has been returning refugees claiming there are safe areas in Syria. Additionally, due to economic decline in the country itself, Lebanon lacks the infrastructure to accept more refugees. Many Syrians have lost the right to secure a UNHCR registration certificate. Instead, they have to secure a national sponsor and become economic migrants without the international protection that is given to refugees.
On August 9, 2020, 36 countries pledged €253 million (around $300 million) for emergency support to Lebanon in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion during a donor conference co-led by France and the United Nations.
2020 Beirut Explosion
On August 4th, 2020, a warehouse in the Port of Beirut caught on fire. Witnesses saw smoke pluming to the sky. Minutes later, there was a massive explosion, followed by a dome-shaped cloud and shockwave. Ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and explosives, were the cause of this blast. Around 200 people died, over 6000 injured, and 300,000 people lost their homes. The city faced $15 billion dollars in damages, and the port itself was completely destroyed, crippling Lebanon’s ability to trade in its failing economy. Lebanese currency severely dropped in value and has continued to worsen from the aftermath of the port explosion. The city’s population has since blamed the explosion on corruption in the Lebanese government, and protests that had paused from the pandemic resumed again. Mass demonstrations have since increased with the Lebanese people voicing their opinions on the government’s lack of support during the coronavirus pandemic. Now this explosion has added additional economic pressure to the population. The Lebanese healthcare system faces more problems as many of Beirut’s hospitals lack the necessary resources for treatment from both the coronavirus and the injuries as a result of the port explosion. Many international aid organizations are refusing to provide assistance to Lebanon until its political class creates a stable government that can improve the economic situation in the public sector.
Not only as a result of the Syrian refugee crisis, but as well as by the Beirut explosion, thousands of families have suffered dramatically. The Lebanon Red Cross provides ambulance, blood, and primary health services throughout Lebanon. They treat wounded individuals, set up tents in areas of high need, distribute meals, and hygiene kits.
This organization works to alleviate hunger and help Lebanon’s environment by distributing near wasted, good quality food. Their main goal is to limit food hunger and limit food waste in Lebanon.
Currently, more than 560,000 children are struggling to survive in Lebanon. The economy is leaving families, including children, to barely afford the basic necessities to maintain a family. This organization is transforming and providing the resources to schools as well as providing water and sanitation throughout Lebanon for children all around Lebanon.
This organization, UN Refugee Agency, is working to provide direct support to Syrian refugees displaced in Lebanon. They have multiple funds designated for special supplies such as the Winter Fund to provide winter kits for each refugee family. They work with the Government in Lebanon and other international organizations to assist refugees and all of those directly affected by the crisis.