Lebanon’s story is a complex and difficult one.
I want to share an article (link temporarily removed) I wrote about the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon last summer. Back then the warnings were dire and the government had taken very little action to accommodate what was, at one point, an astonishing 12,000 Syrians crossing into Lebanon per week.
Since then the government has taken action, but not for the benefit of the Syrians. At the start of 2015 the Lebanese government introduced new “visa” rules, designed to slow the flow of refugees across the border.
This was a massive shift in policy between the two countries. Syrians and Lebanese were, until the entrance of these new visa rules on Jan 5, able to travel freely across the border. A Syrian ID card would get you a six-month residency and the freedom to work in Lebanon.
Now Syrians trying to cross into Lebanon must apply for a one of six visa categories; tourist, business, student, transit, short stay or medical. This is a lengthy process requiring strict documentation. Not the easiest thing to acquire when fleeing a war zone.
The Lebanese government – and it is important here to note that Lebanon has not had a president since Michel Sleiman stood down in May 2014, and its parliament has extended its own mandate twice, pushing elections that should have taken place in 2013 to 2017 – has also increased its involvement in the registration process of Syrian refugees with UNHCR. It’s seeking to decrease the number of refugees in the country in a two pronged approach, first by limiting those coming in and second by having others “deactivated” from the UNHCR’s register. For a clear explanation of what that entails see Maya Gebeily article.
The situation as it stands now is bleak, prompting some refugees to turn to illegal crossings into Europe out of desperation.
This desperate journey has finally begun to be acknowledged by the international community, but it was the failure of the international community to address the Syrian crisis that has led us to this point.
Repeated calls by NGOs and international bodies for the funds needed to weather the storm have been met with indifference.
Speaking to Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, Dana Sleiman, the spokesperson fro UNHCR in Lebanon said the country had “received less than a quarter of the $2.1 billion requested for aid agencies and the government to meet refugee needs in 2015.”
The World Food Programme was forced to drop food vouchers for 1/3 of Syrian refugees because of a lack of funds.
Last winter in Lebanon several refugees died, and without the adequate aid how many will be lost this winter?
The situation is dire, but every little gesture helps.
For those interested in contributing to practical measures helping Syrians there are plenty of smaller organizations working on the ground.
Basmeh & Zeitooneh is community based aid work, aimed at filling in the gaps that larger organisations leave behind.
SAMS Foundation are a group of Syrian-American healthcare professionals who work throughout Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to bring their much needed expertise to provide medical relief.
UOSSM International are a federation of humanitarian medical aid and relief workers who are on the ground in Syria.
KAYANY Foundation is a Lebanese organisation that, among other measures to improve the lives of Syrian children disrupted by war, run several schools in the country to ensure assess to free education.
Lebanese For Refugees is dependent on volunteers and donations. It works with some of the most vulnerable refugees in the country, situated around the eastern border town of Arsal.