• Lebanon is home to at least 1.5 million Syrian refugees
  • The country faces uncertainty, with infrastructure spending likely to only marginally increase
  • Typical refugee and immigrant rhetoric coming from groups of influence is fuelling the idea that Palestinians and Syrians are taking the few jobs left in the country

Crouched in the darkness of a West Beirut alleyway, three young Syrian children exchange petty change and food collected after a day of walking around the capital begging.

It is difficult to know how these children made it to Beirut from their home town of Aleppo, but they do not seem disillusioned by the array of branded restaurants and coffee shops where they do most of their pleading.

Key fact

Lebanon is home to at least 1.5 million Syrian refugees, although locals believe this number is closer to 1.8 million

Source: MEED

Lebanon is home to at least 1.5 million Syrian refugees, although locals believe this number is closer to 1.8 million, with many crossing the border every day for work.

This is a country that is accustomed to an influx of displaced people from neighbouring countries. A total of 450,000 Palestinian refugees are living in Lebanon, of whom about 44,000 are Palestinian refugees from Syria, who fled the unrest from 2012 onwards. This number is only reflective of those registered with the UN Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA), and there are thousands more not accounted for.

Entry restrictions

This number is not expected to increase due to tightened border restrictions between Lebanon and war-torn Syria, although occasional exemptions are made for those with embassy appointments or valid flight tickets.

In January this year, the authorities imposed new rules regarding entry restrictions for Syrian nationals. Syrians can apply for six types of entry visa, including tourist, business, student, transit, short-stay and medical.

Quite simply, [Lebanon] does not have the infrastructure required for a sudden surge in population

Palestinians and Syrians are usually barred from working in several professions and trades, due to Lebanon’s international syndicate system whereby employment is only permitted with a local sponsor.

Despite this, small businesses have benefited from Syrian and Palestinian refugees, who are willing to accept lower wages for longer hours.

Facing uncertainty

It is difficult to measure the impact on Lebanon’s economy, but the country faces uncertainty, with infrastructure spending likely to only marginally increase. Experts have called the refugee situation a crisis. A more uncomfortable reality is that, quite simply, the country does not have the infrastructure required for a sudden surge in population growth.

The social implications could prove damaging for an already schismatically sensitive country. Lebanon and Syria shared a bloody past during the years of the Lebanese civil war.

In addition to this, the typical refugee and immigrant rhetoric coming from groups of influence is fuelling the idea that Palestinians and Syrians are taking the few jobs left in the country.

Lebanon’s political parties have used the refugee crisis to justify economic shortcomings, with many groups blaming the refugees for the lack of jobs and stability. Some even claim the refugees pose a security risk, bringing with them extremist sentiments from the war in Syria and the troubles in the Palestinian territories.

The problem is exacerbated by Beirut’s inability to apply any real policies to deal with the number of displaced people. As a result the capital’s streets have become hunting grounds for young beggars, who make some of the local population uncomfortable.

Insufficient funds

The reality is that many of these refugees are not registered with UN agencies or relevant faith groups, and live in abandoned buildings on the outskirts of the city. While UNRWA is an established organisation that has been able to house and employ many Palestinian people living in Lebanon, the same cannot be said for the Syrians who have fled the war.

Nonetheless, Palestinians in both the Gaza strip and in Lebanon say the Palestinian diaspora has been left disenfranchised by the efforts of UNRWA, following several cuts caused by the organisation’s recent inability to secure more funds. Agencies and faith groups alike have announced that a lack of funding is forcing them to stop cash assistance programs for tens of thousands of Palestinians and Syrians living in Lebanon.

The issue at hand for Beirut will be how to alleviate the economic impact of the refugee crisis while maintaining some level of social cohesion as millions of Syrians continue to walk around major cities in search of work, food and housing.

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