The number of refugees in Lebanon has grown from about 20,000 to more than 120,000 during the past six months. The Lebanese people have been generous in welcoming the refugees. However, the increasing number of refugees in some of the poorest parts of Lebanon has created strains on the local resources and communities. Therefore the emergency response by the Danish Refugee Council in Lebanon focuses on both refugees and host communities to alleviate the impact of the humanitarian crisis facing the region.
Syria is only a few kilometers away along the roads that wind through the mountains of the Wadi Khaled region in North Lebanon. From here it is difficult to see where Lebanon ends and Syria begins, and the people living on either side of the border have had travel and trade links that go back to several centuries.
The traffic across the border has changed dramatically in the past years. Today it is primarily going in one direction – from Syria to Lebanon. By now more than 120,000 Syrians have moved to Lebanon, fleeing the conflict in their home country.
Majority of the refugees settle in northern Lebanon in the city of Tripoli or in the mountainous areas in Wadi Khaled in the governorate of North Lebanon. Several refugees have also arrived into Lebanon to the Bekaa governorate situated on the eastern border with Syria and a small group of refugees have also moved ot South Lebanon. Before crossing the border most of the refugees have survived several months as internally displaced in Syria.
“There was a massacre in the area we lived in. We were struggling as displaced people in Syria for six months with neither enough food nor water. We were starving and had to flee to Lebanon,” says Yousra, 35, who is currently living with her husband and their two sons in a public building in Wadi Khaled.
The Danish Refugee Council has rehabilitated the building and converted it into a home for 16 refugee families.Currently there are seven such collective shelters which are operational in North Lebanon.
The family feels safe here, but the conflict and several months on the run has worn down everybody – especially the two boys aged five and seven.
"My children are traumatized. They are hyperactive, moving constantly or crying because they miss their home, their families and their school," she says. "I thank God that we are alive, but our situation is difficult."
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) was among the first humanitarian organizations to provide assistance in North Lebanon, when the Syrian refugees first started crossing the border in the spring of 2011. In the beginning, about 200 families crossed over every day.
"The Lebanese government is not going to establish refugee camps. Our challenge has been to find alternative solutions for thousands of families who need shelter and protection,” says Jens Christian Christensen, Shelter Advisor for the Danish Refugee Council in Lebanon and Syria.
One of the solutions to the problem has been to rehabilitate community or public buildings such as warehouses and schools, like the building Yousra and her family live in. Another solution has been to develop small insulated shelter boxes that are currently being installed in several places in the North and in the Bekaa region. The one-family boxes are attatched to already functioning buildings.
"The new boxes will give me and my family some privacy ," explains Waleed Saadeinne, 53. He and his family have been sharing their little house in the mountains as hosts for two refugee families for the past four months. With 18 people sharing the space it has become necessary to include both the kitchen and corridor space when laying out the mattresses for the night.
Two new shelter boxes that are being placed in his garden are to function as bedrooms and family rooms for the two refugee families that are now able to stay separately. They will still be using the kitchen and bathrooms in Waleed Saadeinnes house, but that is not seen as a problem. 43 such boxes have been attached to host families in the north. DRC tries to engage the refugees in the construction of these boxes, so that they gain some skills and remuneration.
In addition, DRC is also supporting the refugees and hosting families by assisting them in paying the rent. 54 families have received such support so far.
"The Lebanese people have opened their homes and shared their food – especially the people in the North. They have done so despite the fact that this region is the poorest and most underdeveloped in the country, "says Olivier Beucher, Country Director of DRC Lebanon.
"Next year, the number of refugees in Lebanon is predicted to reach between 150,000 to 200,000. A small country like this cannot handle such a challenge alone."