The number of displaced Syrians currently seeking refuge in tiny Lebanon surpassed the one million mark today (April 3), according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in an online statement.
Encouraged by the Tunisian success in ousting Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime in January 2011, Syrians took to the streets in March the same year to demand their rights to economic prosperity, equality and freedom of expression, and also to condemn alleged corruption from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Assad’s response to the uprising was the bloodiest in the region. Three years on and the result is a tormented Syria, cities in ruins, World Heritage Sites brought to rubble, millions of forcibly displaced civilians, a devastated economy and a soaring death toll that does not seem to come to an end.
The latest information released by aid agencies prove a humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in Syria. Two days ago the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released figures for the death toll in the conflict: more than 150,000 people have been killed since March 2011 – one third were civilians. Around 7,985 children have also lost their lives in the violence.
The number of people fleeing the war-torn has also skyrocketed ever year. There were 18,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon in April 2012; 356,000 by April 2013, and now, in April 2014, one million displaced Syrians are sheltering in Lebanon alone.
The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now equals almost a quarter of the country’s entire population. Lebanon is now the country with the highest per capital concentration of refugees worldwide, with 230 registered refugees for every 1,000 Lebanese.
“The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a statement.
“The Lebanese people have shown striking generosity, but are struggling to cope. Lebanon hosts the highest concentration of refugees in recent history. We cannot let it shoulder this burden alone.”
On a political level, a country that is often struck by violence between its Sunni and Shi’ite communities, Lebanon was plunged into even further sectarianism with the influx of mostly Sunni refugees. With Hezbollah supporters fighting alongside Assad’s armed forces in the war raging next door, the conflict has spilled over the Lebanese borders.
On an economic level, the resource-poor country is experiencing “serious economic shocks” including a decline in tourism, trade and foreign investment, and a surge in the demand for health care, education, electricity, water and sanitation. Lebanese and refugees alike are affected by the strain of the influx and calls for long-term development and stronger infrastructure have been growing louder.
The Syrian crisis already cost Lebanon US $2.5 billion (1.8 billion euros) in lost economic activity in 2013, according to the World Bank, and threatens to push 170,000 into poverty by the end of the year.
With no solution on the horizon the UN refugee agency expects the number of Syrian refugees to rise to 1.6 million by the end of 2014, if the conflict continues at the same pace.