A Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon.
Published in Arabian Business on Nov 07th, 2020, By Tony Akleh
Tensions rise between locals and Syrian refugees over competition for lower-skilled jobs and services such as healthcare and utilities
Over 20 million refugees have been granted protection in another country in the last 10 years, with Lebanon bearing most of the responsibility in the Middle East, according to new figures.
While most countries in the world have scarcely received any refugees at all, Lebanon is suffering under a heavy burden.
But most of all, it affects refugees themselves, according to a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
It said there are almost 80 million displaced people in the world today. Of these, 33.8 million are refugees who have fled to another country.
Lebanon, with a population of 6 million, is currently hosting an estimated 1.5 million refugees from Syria (21 percent). The real number is probably even higher because the national authorities demanded that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) stop the registration of new refugees in 2015. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in the country.
Even before the large influx of refugees from Syria, the country was in a precarious economic situation. Lebanon is dependent on importing most of what it needs and has long kept its economy going through foreign loans and financial transfers from Lebanese nationals abroad.
Unemployment is sky-high and the country’s currency has dropped in value by 85 per cent, meaning much of the population is no longer able to afford the necessities of survival. Recent surveys put more than 50 percent of the population below the poverty line.For Syrian refugees, the figure is even higher, with 83 percent living below the extreme poverty line.
On top of an already difficult situation came the Covid-19 pandemic and the Beirut explosion, which killed more than 200 people, wounded more than 6,000 and displaced around 300,000.
International Alert, a UK-based NGO, said in a recent report that tensions between host communities and Syrian refugees remain high in Lebanon and a potential threat to the country’s social stability.
According to a survey, the most cited cause of tensions for both Lebanese and Syrians is competition over lower-skilled jobs or over services such as healthcare and utilities.
In 2019, this demand rose further as more families became vulnerable due to the economic crisis and increased unemployment, with more Lebanese households falling below the poverty line. The recent crisis related to Covid-19 is putting even more strain on such services and further exacerbating tensions.
NRC urged the rest of the world to step up and help the country that has taken the greatest responsibility for helping displaced people.
While countries such as Lebanon, Uganda and Sweden have received large numbers of refugees year after year, many countries have received almost none, the report said.
It added that some of the richest countries in the world do almost nothing. Japan has the world’s third largest economy and a population of 127 million and has received just 1,732 refugees in the last 10 years.
The report said Turkey has provided protection to more refugees than any other country in the last 10 years but in terms of refugees as a proportion of the total population, no country comes close to Lebanon.