THE BLOG

Lebanon, Don't Turn Your Back on Syrian Refugees Now

11/18/2013 05:34 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Amid escalating violence in Syria, over two million refugees have been forced to flee their homes and leave behind their livelihoods. According to the UN Refugee Agency, over 800,000 Syrians are now living between Lebanon's small borders, expected to hit one million by December 2013. Potential threats that the influx of Syrian refugees poses on Lebanon's frail national stability, one already scarred by decades of violence and civil strife, is beginning to weigh on the Lebanese conscience.

The response from Lebanon has been phenomenal, accommodating Syrians who face similarly devastating circumstances to what the Lebanese endured during their civil war. However, as resources stretch thin, inevitable tension is on the rise as the heavy demand to provide refuge to Syrians leaves little time to factor in short and long-term challenges associated with a quickly swelling population. The Syrian crisis is demanding centre focus in Lebanon, unhinging a delicate balance of coexistence in the socio-economic and political realm.

As Lebanon continues to salvage it's pre-war reputation as the Paris of the Middle East, ongoing sectarian violence has accelerated as opposing religious and political factions find themselves in increasingly cramped spaces. It's unknown how long refugees will continue renting spaces from local residents, paralleling the state of uncertainty in Syria. Adding to the volatile situation is the competition between Lebanese and Syrians for scarce job opportunities, particularly in construction and plumbing. Lebanese are vying for the same jobs as their Syrian counterparts, and losing due to significantly cheaper labour costs.

Among the infrastructural dilemmas of attempting to accommodate thousands into homes, streets and schools, comes the inevitable challenge of assimilation. With half the refugees being children, Lebanese classrooms are fast expanding and encountering obstacles. The overwhelming majority of Lebanese schools are French. Leila Ghorayeb is an Arabic teacher at the Deir el Kamar Official School, a French elementary school situated in the village of Deir el Kamar. She says it's becoming difficult to adjust the lesson plan to her evolving classroom.

Syrians taught under different curriculums and without knowledge of French are now being put behind three grade levels; the overcrowded classrooms are creating an unequal distribution in learning. Not to mention, drastic differences in dialect that varies region-to-region has intensified communication barriers. The mounting problems are resulting in an epidemic of dropout rates among Syrian students, and this is of particular concern as efforts to bring income might force corrupt activities, and accelerate homelessness rates.

The risk to security and economic stability posed on both on refugees and local communities is staggering, with levels of crimes rising exponentially and the number of displaced families on the streets now increasing. The international community fears the most vulnerable members, being women and children, will resort to sexual exploitation in an effort to cope with depleting resources. As the situation intensifies, relief efforts are met by deepening complexities and potential economic immobility.

In this time of crisis for millions, Lebanon should continue it's open-border policy despite justified concerns, and extend the same courteous hand as Syria did when it became a safe haven for Lebanese refugees during the civil war. International aid to the host countries aims to fortify long-term plans that enable peaceful coexistence between displaced refugees and local residents. Through properly allocated funding and strategic planning, waning ties between the groups can be mitigated.