Lebanon’s plea for help with Syrian refugee crisis

Lebanon’s plea for help with Syrian refugee crisis

The Government is expected to pass the halfway mark today towards meeting its target of relocating 20,000 Syrian refugees from countries around the conflict zone.

But Sky News has visited a single town in Lebanon that hosts more than 25,000 refugees alone. Officials in the border town of Majdal Anjar say they are “overwhelmed” by the crisis.

Every day since the seven-year conflict began, new refugees have been smuggled from war-torn Syria across a low mountain into Majdal Anjar.

Syrian refugees cross a low mountain to get into Lebanese town Majdal Anjar

Now refugees outnumber the native Lebanese and occupy over 30 so-called “temporary camps” which are, in reality, becoming a permanent fixture.

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Mayor of the town, Saeed Yaseen, told Sky News his region was being “ignored” by the international community.

He said: “The number of Syrian refugees exceeds 25,000 while the town population is 22,000.”

“Sewage facilities for the town are made for 22,000 people so they are overwhelmed. We need a waste disposal plant. We need a hospital as the nearest one is 25 miles away and most people don’t have transport.”

Mayor Saeed Yaseen says his town has been 'ignored' by the international community
Mayor Saeed Yaseen says his town has been ‘ignored’ by the international community

The mayor says only a small number of NGOs are working on the ground and he blames both the international community and the Lebanese government for focusing their efforts in the wrong places.

He said “Majdal Anjar in particular is being ignored as only two organisations barely helped us, while they are helping other towns that are not hosting any refugees.”

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Lebanon has 1.5 million refugees now living in the country, making up one quarter of the country’s total population.

In 2015, David Cameron’s pledged the UK would take 20,000 refugees by 2020.

Refugees live in make-shift camps, at risk from organised gangs
Refugees live in make-shift camps, at risk from organised gangs

The UK has also given nearly £2.5bn in humanitarian aid to countries in the region since the conflict began.

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The decision to take in particularly vulnerable refugees from the camps in Syria, Jordan and Turkey was in part an effort to send a signal that people in camps close to the Syrian border should stay put rather than risk the journey to Europe.

But the situation in these camps is getting increasingly dire.

Syrian refugee Mohammed Abu Malek and one of his young children
Syrian refugee Mohammed Abu Malek and one of his young children in their kitchen

Despite showing incredible fortitude in the face of the crisis, Lebanon has suffered economically, and hostility to refugees is beginning to grow amongst the native population.

As a result life is getting harder for the displaced people.

The Syrians have to pay an annual $200 (£144) residency renewal fee and many are unable to afford it.

While authorities have recently promised to waive the payment for those registered with the UNHCR, around half a million people are not registered. And these are probably some of the most vulnerable.

Lack of legal status makes it difficult for people to work, send their children to school or access health care.

Despite the desperate conditions in the camp, the refugees keep on coming
Despite the desperate conditions in the camp, the refugees keep on coming

It also leaves them exposed to the risk of arrest, and organised gangs have been known to blackmail the people they have smuggled in by threatening to turn them into the Lebanese authorities.

We spoke to Rami from Homs who left Syria after his wife and child were killed in the war and he feared he would be conscripted into President Assad’s forces.

He paid traffickers $2000 (£1438) to take him across the mountains but was turned into the Lebanese military on arrival.

He has been unable to afford the registration fee and has been living illegally in Lebanon for the last year.

Eastern Ghouta has been under heavy bombardment for several days by Assad and his allies, causing hundreds of deaths and injuries.

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He said: “I can’t actually move freely. I can’t go to any other area outside the camp and risk getting caught at a checkpoint, so it’s almost impossible for me to get a job. I’m stuck. I reached out to the UNHCR but they can’t help me as I’m considered an illegal refugee.”

The number of refugee families where no one is registered has increased considerably from 20% in 2015, to 55% in 2017.

That also means over half the displaced population would not qualify to get on to the vulnerable persons relocation scheme for a chance to be rehomed in the United Kingdom. Yet it is likely these are the most vulnerable families.

Syrian refugee Mohammed Abu Malek who has a family of five children living on a camp in Majdal Anjar told Sky News: “The support is not enough at all. It is becoming less and less each year and the situation is getting worse.”

By now people still in Syria know that what awaits them in Lebanon before they leave. Word gets back that it is a life of hardship and exploitation. But they keep coming anyway.

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NBN Editorial Team

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