Lebanon is a relatively small Mediterranean country in the Middle East with a population of around 4.5 million people. To the north and east it is bordered by Syria, and currently Lebanon hosts approximately 1.2 million Syrian refugees (including 45,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria), who now comprise about a quarter of the total population. Together with large numbers of displaced persons from other countries as well, Lebanon has the largest refugee to national ratio in the world.
Unlike Jordan and Turkey, there are no official refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon. Instead, the refugees are dispersed in over 1,700 locations across the country, with 40% now living in sub-standard shelter, including unfinished buildings, worksites, and garages. Examples of generous local landlords who forego rent for several months are common, but so are cases of exploitation. About 15% of the refugees live in informal settlements in which families still pay rent and are often evicted or at risk of flooding or fire.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Lebanon has been straining to cope with the huge influx of refugees. For some time, the Government of Lebanon tried to maintain a principle of non-intervention in Syrian affairs in order to avoid possible repercussions; however, in 2014, serious problems became evident. There has been civil unrest in the country, armed clashes among local groups within Tripoli, and violent clashes in Arsal between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Al-Nusra Front, which is allied with ISIS.
In October 2014, the Government of Lebanon decided to stop welcoming Syrian refugees. This decision was taken within a climate of growing discrimination against Syrians in Lebanon. Furthermore, Syrians already in the country must now undergo an expensive and complicated bureaucratic process to renew their status and many are unable to meet the requirements. As permits expire, thousands of families are at risk of refoulement (repatriation to the war zone). Checkpoints and signatures pledging not to work in Lebanon further restrict livelihood possibilities. Refugee families are depleting their assets and humanitarian funding and assistance are also shrinking. Reports of harsh treatment of refugees and human rights violations have become quite common, and many Syrians are looking to find refuge elsewhere.
CJI supports the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) which is working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The need is enormous and JRS is doing important work, offering emergency support as well as psychosocial support and non-formal education.