The small country in the Middle East, neighbouring Syria, Jordan and Israel, is home to around 4.3 million inhabitants with members of over 18 different ethnical groups. Following the civil war from 1970 – 1990 and two wars in 2005 and 2006, the country has been stable. However, this peace is built on thin ice: residual effects from the Syrian war, tensions with Israel, the interference of Iranian allies and corruption within the Lebanese political system can quickly destabilize the current state.
In August 2016, more than 20,000 protesters marched through the streets of Beirut after garbage collection services ceased, a problem that was initiated in June 2015. Trash piled up in the streets, poisoning the air and the water. For many Lebanese, this exemplified the government’s inability to address local problems in a timely manner. Democratic values continue to be challenged as the country has been without a president for more than two years. Only in October 2016, after two rounds of elections, Michael Aoun was assigned as president and the power vacuum has been closed. On the other hand, the illegitimate parliament continues to extend its governing period without holding recognized elections. Many Lebanese show their discontent towards the paralysis that characterizes the current situation.
Currently, Lebanese forces and Hisbollah – a shiit political and armed entity with significant power – are cooperating to secure the border of the country. However, it is a complex situation. Religiously motivated conflicts between shiit and sunni parties erupt from time to time, reflecting the tensions present in Syria. The occurrence of these violent attacks generally occur within neighbourhoods with traditionally high poverty and unemployment rates. This relationship has been recognized as one of the underlying causes that result in further exposure and marginalization of affected populations within the country, especially in the Sunni dominated north, which is particularly susceptible to the risk of radicalization and terrorist threats.
In addition to this volatile structure, Lebanon hosts a notable number of Syrian refugees. Since they are not properly registered after December 2015, only estimated figures are available. Humanitarian organisations believe that about 1.5 million currently reside in Lebanon, which is already home to Palestinian refugees for over 60 years. Consequently, the government is not willing to and unable to provide requisite services to those in need. Since their initial arrival to Lebanon, Palestinians have only been allowed to settle in refugee camps, and are excluded from access to basic services and many job opportunities. Due to the lack of a formal agreement with Israel, the local government has completely prevented Palestinian integration into Lebanese society, which has caused a significant degree of intercultural tensions. Camps are overcrowded, Palestinians are still very dependent on aid provided by the UN and their parallel existence apart from Lebanese society is a security threat that the Lebanese army has great difficulties controlling.
With the arrival of new refugees from Syria, including additional Palestinian refugees, the camps have long reached the limits of their intended use. For example, the Beddawi camp has grown from an initial 16,000 residents to an estimated 50,000 inhabitants in 2014 alone. UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) estimates that about 45,000 Palestinians from Syria arrived by the end of 2015, with the majority seeking refuge in the Palestinian refugee community. This rate of population change also places a significant strain on community life and social cohesion.
Compared to the estimated 4.5 million inhabitants, the refugee influx is massive and poses enormous challenges to the local population that is hosting the refugees, state institutions and humanitarian agencies. The 2014 UNDP Report on the Lebanon Millennium Development Goals identifies some of the major implications of the Syrian crisis to the communities hosting Syrian refugees. The situation has substantially deteriorated with regards to poverty and employment. Consequences have included the price inflation of basic goods, pressure on access to basic services, competition for work between the most vulnerable workers, high competition for low-skilled jobs and downward pressure on wages. Furthermore, the increased unemployment is coupled with the rise of informal employment opportunities. Educational institutions have also suffered tremendously and are unable to physically accommodate the ever increasing influx of pupils nor adapt their curricula to the special needs of refugees.