The impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon has been profound. With over 1 million uprooted Syrians now living among a national population of more than 4 million, Lebanon today has the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world. But this extraordinary generosity has come at a steep price for the country and its people.
Economically, Lebanon has suffered a loss of trade, tourism and investment. Its public services and infrastructure -- fragile even before the crisis -- are now under severe strain as a result of the refugee influx. The country's security is being tested as the conflict in Syria spills across the border, intermittently throughout the country and consistently in Arsal, north Bekaa, during the last quarter of 2014. Socially, even the most remote Lebanese communities are feeling the stress. Refugees live throughout Lebanon in over 1,700 localities. Many refugees are living in communities that are among the poorest in the country. In some places, refugees now outnumber local residents.
Humanitarian appeals have been made in six consecutive Regional Response Plans since 2012. With prospects for peace in Syria still remote and the burdens borne by Lebanon and other countries in the region continuing to grow, it became increasingly apparent that a broader appeal mechanism was needed. This is now embodied in the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), launched on December 18, 2014. The 3RP, comprised of separate country chapters, is a multifaceted plan to address refugee protection and assistance needs as well as to strengthen host country institutions and communities severely affected by the Syrian crisis. The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) makes up the Lebanon chapter of the 3RP.
It is co-managed by the Government of Lebanon (GOL), represented by the Minister of Social Affairs, and the United Nations, represented by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. The Plan aims to address the humanitarian needs of refugees and other vulnerable populations as well as invest in Lebanese institutions, services and systems in a manner that helps maintain Lebanon’s stability throughout the crisis. These efforts engage over 50 partners. The refugee and resilience/stabalization aspects of the collective response are led by UNHCR and UNDP respectively, alongside specialised partners such as UNICEF, WFP, and WHO.
Refugee needs are myriad, and funding has never been enough to respond to all needs nor to address the negative impact of the refugee presence on Lebanon. Partners work to respond to the most critical needs across all sectors.
Refugee arrivals to Lebanon grew at a prolonged and unprecedented pace throughout 2013 and 2014, with 47,000 refugees on average being registered by UNHCR per month. As the conflict showed no signs of diminishing, and as the proportion of refugees to Lebanese grew to one quarter, the Lebanese government took steps to limit access to Lebanon. The GOL explained that its measures were necessary to preserve peace and stability in Lebanon. Introduced progressively from mid-2014, the measures had the effect of limiting the access of refugees to Lebanon to exceptional humanitarian cases. At the start of 2015, the number of newly registered refugees with UNHCR was 25 per cent of the number registered in January of the previous year. This trend is likely to continue.
Partner agencies have therefore planned for only a modest increase in the registered refugee population in 2015, anticipating a population of 1. 5 million Syrian refugees and 270,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (an estimated 45,000 of them from Syria) by the end of the year. Women and children have consistently comprised 80 per cent of the total refugee population, and around half of all refugee households care for a person with specific needs.
Successive inter-agency vulnerability assessments have shown that close to 30 per cent of refugees need assistance to meet their basic food and non-food needs. Moreover, 70 per cent of refugees cannot meet their minimum daily food requirements. As their pre-crisis savings diminish, assets are sold and work opportunities become ever more limited, the vulnerability of refugees will increase.
Receptivity towards refugees in Lebanon was very strong at the outset of the crisis. However, as the years have progressed, the numbers increased, and the strain deepened, receptivity has waned. The additional pressure placed on local resources, infrastructure and services is taxing the patience of communities who do not see an end in sight. Conversely, while refugees have largely good relations with their Lebanese hosts, this too is at risk of fraying. Harsher regulations imposed by the GOL is leaving many refugees feeling more and more insecure. A heightened sense of despair at their deepening impoverishment, lack of solutions in Syria, and growing intolerance towards them in Lebanon risks sowing the seeds of disaffection with the country that has taken them in.