Lebanese infrastructure is slowly collapsing under the strain of coping with more than a million Syrian refugees, fleeing the bitter war in their own country. Every day, more people in desperate conditions are pouring over the border and there is little hope that they will be able to return home in the near future. Many of these suffering people had got out just before their homes were destroyed by shelling or bombing and they would have little to go back to when the fighting stops.
Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has thanked the Lebanese government for keeping its borders open to the 8,000 new Syrian refugees who are crossing into Lebanon every day at the moment. In the two years since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, more than one million refugees have come to live in Lebanon, which is more than 25 per cent of Lebanon’s indigenous population.
The problem the Lebanese government faces is that mere words of thanks from the UN do not help the situation on the ground as hundreds of thousands of new residents need water, electricity and food. All this has to come from somewhere. Lebanon was simply not prepared for such a vast influx. Already the supplies are failing and the local population is starting to suffer.
It does not help that the government is weak. Prime Minister Najeeb Mikati has been in office since 2011, when he replaced former prime minister, Saad Hariri, after ministers loyal to the March 8 alliance resigned, forcing the government’s collapse. Growing tensions led to a clash last week between supporters of Hezbollah and Sunni preacher, Shaikh Ahmad Assir, in Sidon which left three people dead.
Mikati does not have enough authority to take the decisive steps that are needed to give his country a new political direction, as well as cope with the largest refugee crisis that Lebanon has had since the Palestinians first arrived in the country — triggering political unrest that led to the disastrous civil war.