Almost ten years into the Syrian crisis, Lebanon has become the country with the largest concentration of refugees per capita, accommodating up to 1.5 million Syrians and up to 200,000 Palestinians. This small country sharing borders with Syria and Israel has been under considerable social and economic pressure.
Since a catastrophic economic crisis hit Lebanon in mid-October 2019, along with the coronavirus crisis just a few months later, the lives of many refugees have been turned upside down. They are struggling to find work, the access to food supply is limited and prices of food have doubled or even tripled as the Lebanese lira value crashes. Those more fortunate ones, who manage to find work, usually face pay discrimination based on their refugee status.
The statistics say that up to 80% of Syrian refugees earn significantly less than the Lebanese native citizens. They face discrimination, unemployment, poverty, and lack of access to justice. According to UNHCR, the proportion of refugees below the extreme poverty line of less than €2.47 a day is alarming – it climbed from 55% last year to 88% this year.
The other catastrophe, which occurred in August 2020, was the Beirut explosion where dozens of Syrians were killed, injured, or lost their property. Despite this, they are being turned down at aid-distribution sites and denied help to rebuild their destroyed homes. This blast has deepened their misery as many locals blame their country’s problem in the exodus of Syrian refugees to Lebanon.
Many of the Syrian refugees, who have fled Syria’s bloody civil war, are now living in the overcrowded refugee camps and other informal tent settlements or abandoned buildings. On the other hand, Lebanese authorities and officials have been trying to prevent them from settling in their country permanently and have been making lives for them more difficult in order to pressure them to return home. Thousands of illegal migrants were even deported back to Syria in 2019. These deportations, however, have been suspended for now since countries decided to close their borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Many of the refugees say they feel much safer in Lebanon and wish to stay there but with the failing economy unable to support them, they feel under pressure. Consequently, many consider returning to their homes in Syria much sooner than they originally expected. However, Syria which has been ravaged by war is still not considered to be a safe country. That is why many do not know if they even have a place or a house to get back to in case of returning. Hundreds of thousands of families have been building homes and communities here for over a decade but Lebanon has become an increasingly difficult place – not only for refugees – to live. Many are currently facing a choice – whether to stay here, with very limited means and options to survive or to cross the border and face the unknown in their homeland.