World Must Help Lebanon Handle Syrian Refugee Flood: UNICEF
New York – International donors must do more to help Lebanon absorb a flood of refugees straining its schools and public services, the head of the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF said. Lebanon, the smallest of Syria’s neighbors, is giving sanctuary to the largest number of refugees from the civil war across its border and Syrians now number around a quarter of its own population of just over 4 million.
With a weak government and threadbare national services even before the Syrian crisis erupted two and a half years ago, Lebanon is struggling to support those refugees, scattered in informal camps across the country’s most deprived areas.
“Lebanon has opened its borders, opened its arms, and the international community owes it to Lebanon to do everything it can to help Lebanese society adapt to this,” UNICEF chief Anthony Lake told Reuters on a visit to a camp in the eastern Bekaa Valley, about two miles from the Syrian frontier.
The United Nations says 800,000 Syrians have either registered or are awaiting registration as refugees in Lebanon. But many more are estimated to be in the country unregistered and some Lebanese officials say there could be more than 1 million refugees in the country.
The World Bank has estimated the cost to Lebanon at around $2.6 billion over three years. Government-funded schools, which cater for the poorest third of the population, face being inundated with Syrians even if only a fraction of them enroll. Lake visited a Bekaa Valley school where 200 of the 355 children are Syrian and the kindergarten section has swollen to around 40 per class.
“Physically we are able to absorb them but at some stage we will need more teachers and equipment,” head teacher Jhonny Abu Toumah said. “What else can I do with the children – put them out on the street?” (Reuters)