As international efforts to bring peace to Syria begin today at a conference in Switzerland with 40 foreign ministers, Response Team member Torstein Nielson speaks of Lebanon’s contrasts:
‘By understanding Lebanon you will understand much more of the Middle East’.
The above statement belongs to one of the most famous Norwegian television reporters with many years experience in the Middle East. Lebanon is in many ways representative of the region. Most of the Middle East is interrelated – and many of the threads are linked together in Lebanon. It is hardly possible to see the region’s conflicts and wars separately. Everything is connected to everything.
In the midst of an intense frenzy of big politics, religion and cultural history you can find everything you can imagine in Lebanon: Great scenery, rich history and culture, friendly people and fabulous food. Lebanon is characterised by contrasts. It is also a troubled part of the world. It is the Middle East’s most beautiful country but one small spark and Lebanon explodes. It has always been like that. No one visits Lebanon without being captivated.
After decades of civil war, most people in Lebanon thought that 2011 was going to be the best year in a long time. Years of economic growth and stability had created a hope for a new era. But then the conflict in Syria began. The first Syrian refugees arrived in April 2011. First a few, then more and more and more. In 2012 15,000 were registered. Now there are nearly 882,000. We should never forget that almost 500,000 Palestinian refugees also live in Lebanon. The humanitarian situation for Syrian refugees in other neighbouring countries is also precarious. According to the United Nations Refugee agency (UNHCR), there are currently 589,045 in Jordan, 577,349 in Turkey, 212,918 in Iraq and 132,598 in Egypt. An additional 6.5 million are displaced in Syria.
Number of refugees will rise further
It is said that there are many more than the number of registered refugees in Lebanon. The real number is probably closer to 1.2 million. UNHCR assume that the number of refugees will rise further. The situation has dramatic consequences for Lebanon’s economy. One expects an unemployment rate of about 20% in 2014 and Lebanon’s expenses as a result of the war in Syria is estimated to be US$7.5 billion. President Michael Sleiman warned earlier that Lebanon is now threatened by an existential crisis if the war in Syria is not ended.
The Syrian conflict has spread to Lebanon. The situation has escalated and many fear a flare of already existing political and religious conflicts. Violent incidents are now prominent in Tripoli, the northern Akkar province and in the Bekaa valley east of the country. Acts of violence have also occurred elsewhere in the country, including Beirut and Saida. The war in Syria has also kindled the existing conflicts in Lebanon, for example, in districts Bab Tabbaneh and Jabal Muhsen in Tripoli where there has continually been armed clashes between Sunnis and Alawites.
Burden for one nation
Lebanon and its citizens deserve much praise for keeping borders and homes open for civilians fleeing the war in the neighboring country. This small and beautiful country has taken a massive load, both economically and politically, by accepting nearly one million refugees at the end of last year. The burden is just too heavy to carry by one nation alone.
‘Who believes he understands Lebanon is not well briefed,’ is another statement worth remembering. The Middle East is a complex region. Everything is connected to everything.
ShelterBox has distributed aid to refugees from Syria in Lebanon since February 2013. Up to now ShelterBox has distributed enough aid to help nearly 1,500 families and more winterised aid is currently clearing through customs in Beirut to be distributed through ShelterBox’s trusted distribution network made up of local implementing partners.
ShelterBox aid is delivered to those most needed; often we find families in poorer areas, often remote and in the mountains. The refugees living here are amongst the most damaged people ShelterBox has met since our work started worldwide in 2001. The winter has set in there; frost and snow have arrived.
With your help we can make a difference. It’s vital to get more aid during this tough winter.
The core of ShelterBox’s work is to alleviate the suffering of displaced families by bringing them emergency shelter and other vital aid regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, religion or political affiliation. Please donate to our appeal here.