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The three-year war in Syria has left Lebanon without breath. More than one million refugees registered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR ) have crossed the border and as a consequence have turned the already difficult sectarian and demographic balance into fertile ground for violence.
The flow of people displaced by a conflict that has left more than 150,000 dead, according to sources such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Additionally, the western-backed war also internally displaced another six million people, with 2.5 million having to leave the country. Most of the refugees have turned up in Lebanon, which made the country’s precarious security situation even worse.
“The influx of a million refugees would be massive for any country”, said the head of UNHCR, António Guterres, “for Lebanon, a small country beset by internal difficulties, the impact is amazing.” With just over 4.2 million inhabitants, the accumulated number of Syrian refugees equals 24% of its population.
More than 1,600 localities host 40% of the 2.5 million displaced in the countries of the region, well above the 667,636 registered refugees in Turkey or the 589,000 who live in Jordan, and light years ahead of those in Iraq and Egypt, that have 219,579 and 135,853 respectively.
“Lebanon is no longer able to absorb more refugees in their land,” said Lebanese President, Michel Suleiman, during her speech at the last summit of the Arab League in late March.
In three years the government has been seeking international help to cope with the humanitarian crisis for which the country needs 1,373 million euros, but has only received 175 million. Lebanon would use the funds to curb a budget deficit that reached 26.24% in the first seven months of 2013 compared to 16.34 % the year before.
The number of registered refugees has undertaken a monumental climb from the 18,000 recorded in April 2012. In the same month in 2013, the number of exiles already numbered more than 644,000, a figure that has nearly doubled to reach a million this year.
The immediate consequence is the glut of much of the local population, which began to compete for increasingly scarce resources in a country under siege, with an impassable southern border with Israel.
In the border city of Arsal, northwest of Lebanon, demographic chaos has already taken over. There, the data handled by the government far exceeds the number of refugees recognized by the United Nations, which, according to the mayor, Ali Huyeiri, has multiplied the problems of electricity and has cut jobs in the quarries, bringing wages down to $3 per meter stone extracted.
Both the Lebanese Executive and international organizations working in the field put the number of refugees in the country to nearly two million people. Not all refugees who come meet the criteria of the UNHCR to be registered and receive help and not all Syrians arriving in Lebanon want to register.
The situation shows a balance between a million and a half million people in the shadows, condemned to beg and bad life in the most impoverished areas of the country.
Fear is the first barrier. The geographical dispersion of Syrian refugees coincides with the scars of a deeply divided country, and the Syrian war has also exported hate among people.
The open participation of Hezbollah in the Syrian war has not only destroyed stability in Lebanon, because it became the perfect breeding ground for the spread of sectarian violence before which the country has succumbed miserably.
This year alone has seen eight suicide attacks in areas of guerrilla control in Beirut and the eastern Bekaa Valley that have left nearly fifty people dead, including several soldiers of the Lebanese Army. In Tripoli, more than 30 people have died in two weeks of clashes between supporters and opponents of Bashar Assad.
The security crisis has highlighted the failure of the armed forces and has led the deployment of Hezbollah men themselves throughout the Bekaa, whose roads have installed checkpoints in which they arbitrarily detain any suspicious Syrian refugee who collaborates with Syrian jihadist fronts Jabhat to Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Despite this reality, the United States of America, the main player behind civil unrest in Syria, continues to provide weapons to terrorist groups in an attempt to destabilize the government of Bashar Assad, which in the last few months has taken back key cities and towns that were once in the hands of western-supported terrorist groups.
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