Compound crises and trauma have led to a dramatic rise in tensions across Lebanon, whether between communities, inside institutions, or at home. Refugees in addition to vulnerable Lebanese, have fallen victim to economic collapse. There is a sharp rise in unemployment and resulting food insecurity as well as eviction risks due to an inability to pay rent.(1) By June 2020, it was estimated that unemployment among Lebanese was over 30% and this trend continues to grow.(2) The World Bank has stated that 50% of Lebanese are now living below the poverty line.(3)
Such statistics have always been worse among refugee communities, whether Palestinian or Syrian. Most refugees were already living hand-to-mouth prior to the latest severe COVID-19 lockdowns, now UNHCR reports that 89% of Syrian refugees are living in extreme poverty, a stark contrast to last year’s estimate of 55%.(4) As such, refugees have been surviving on what they can earn through informal ad-hoc jobs and humanitarian assistance. However, work has dwindled due to the economic crisis and various lockdowns.(5) Increasingly children are being sent to work so that their families have enough to eat as food prices rise rapidly.
Further, COVID-19 lockdowns have also made the delivery of aid and services more difficult and dangerous. Refugees fear being stopped at checkpoints and harassed due to their legal status or nationality, including those engaged within aid programmes. The common experience over the past year has been that refugees in general are more likely to be stopped and fined heavily than their Lebanese counterparts for violating curfews and social distancing protocols.(6) If fines are not paid within 6 months, they can be converted into criminal charges, putting refugees at greater risk.(7) For refugees, meeting basic needs has always proven challenging in Lebanon. Amidst deteriorating service provision and an economy in collapse, finding means of survival and basic dignity is becoming an impossible task.