Beirut: At least 27 percent of Lebanon's population are Syrian refugees
Over one million Syrian refugees are registered with UNHCR in Lebanon (File Archive/AFP)
Interior Minister Nouhad Al Mashnouq said Tuesday that Syrian refugees are “our guests and our people,” but noted that the government “does not have the assets or infrastructure to cope with these numbers.”
“Syrian refugees represent 27% of Lebanon's population, while in Jordan they number 10% of the population and in Turkey 4%,” Mashnouq said during a meeting with the representatives of several municipalities, lamenting the fact that Amman and Ankara are receiving greater international aid.
“The refugees are our people but we won't accept that they become the cause of a problem in Lebanon,” he added.
The minister called for devising a mechanism that can “identify the real refugees, the regions that can host them and the services that we can offer them.”
Mashnouq stressed that the government does not have “the ability or assets to cope with more refugees.”
“Prime Minister (Tammam) Salam and I are laying out the standards needed to make someone qualify for refugee status, and this depends on the region from which refugees come,” the minister added.
“Curbing the influx hinges on two points: specifying who is a real refugee and limiting migration from safe Syrian regions,” Mashnouq noted.
He also urged more talks with the international community in order to prevent further deterioration.
The U.N. refugee agency says that every day it registers 2,500 new refugees in Lebanon -- more than one person a minute.
According to the UNHCR, refugees from Syria, half of them children, equalled a quarter of Lebanon's resident population on April 3. The agency warned that most of them live in poverty and depend on aid for survival.
UNHCR representative in Lebanon Ninette Kelly branded the one million figure as "a devastating marker."
"The extent of the human tragedy is not just the resuscitation of numbers, but each one of these numbers represent a human life who, like us, have lives of their own, but who've lost their homes, they've lost their family members, have lost their future," she told reporters.
Kelly said Lebanon has become the country with the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide.
Lebanon "is literally staggering under the weight of this problem. Its social services are stressed, health, education, its very fragile infrastructure is also buckling under the pressure."
The massive refugee crisis is compounded by a spillover across the border of the violence that has ravaged Syria for the past three years, with Lebanon experiencing frequent bombings and clashes even as it grapples with political deadlock and an economic downturn.