LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rising pressure on jobs, rent, food prices, schools and healthcare is jacking up tension between Syrian refugees and their hosts in Lebanon, and some communities are near "breaking point", a report from aid agency World Vision has warned.
Poorer Lebanese families have had to move into cheaper accommodation as monthly rents have soared by 200 percent in some places. Work is harder to find as refugees accept lower wages, and pupils are being sent home early from school to make way for Syrian children, the report said.
In the past two years, some 605,000 people have fled Syria's worsening conflict into neighbouring Lebanon, the latest figures show, amid predictions that refugees could make up a third of the Lebanese population by the end of the year. There are no formal camps in the country, and most Syrians are staying with relatives and friends, in rented apartments and empty buildings, or pitching tents on private land.
Some towns in the Bekaa Valley and the north report that their populations have doubled, the report said. Lebanese have shown generosity towards the refugees, many taking Syrians into their homes and sharing food and other necessities. But overcrowding and a lack of support for host communities is putting "unbearable" strain on them, turning sentiment against the newcomers, World Vision warned.
"The cracks are starting to show with worsening security, rising tensions and some children saying they're scared for their future," said Anita Delhaas, chief executive of World Vision Lebanon.
The report - based on interviews with around 180 people in Lebanon, representing different viewpoints - documented growing frustration and discontent fuelled by the perception that aid efforts are being channelled exclusively to Syrians, who are now living in better conditions than many local people.
Lebanese children are being affected both by growing poverty and the influx of Syrian children into their schools. Higher education dropout rates are expected in the next academic year, as some parents can no longer afford school fees and others keep their children at home for fear they will catch scabies or other infections from refugees, the report said.
It describes the increasingly tough living conditions for one family, forced to move into a smaller apartment which they pay for in kind by tending the block's garden. The husband, Taha, cannot work due to a car accident, while his pregnant wife, whose cleaning job keeps him and their four children afloat, has even attempted suicide. They have racked up debt to pay for medicines, and have been reduced to eating mainly tomatoes and onions.
Taha blames the Lebanese government for letting in Syrian refugees. “They get all the assistance, get given their food, mattresses, they are even able to sell items such as stoves to make money. We should also be getting assistance,” he is quoted as saying.
RISK OF VIOLENCE
The report describes increasing levels of resentment among poor Lebanese as "a dangerous situation". "In an already very tense context, there is a real danger that a small spark could ignite significant levels of violence," it said. "Serious action is needed in order to address these issues before it is too late."
World Vision welcomed recent international efforts to start providing help for Lebanese to cope with the influx of Syrian refugees. The U.N.'s revised regional appeal more than quintupled the amount of money requested for the response in Lebanon for the second half of this year from the first half to $1.66 billion, and included support for host communities for the first time.
The report called on all those working in Lebanon to direct adequate aid to those most in need, whether they are refugees or members of host communities. Particular efforts are required to address the economic impact of the refugee crisis, as well the education and healthcare needs of both Syrian and Lebanese children, it said.
Asked what the government of Lebanon and the international community should do to address the challenges identified in the research, interviewees said more needed to be done to achieve peace in Syria, and specific sites for housing refugees in Lebanon should be established.
Unlike other countries, Lebanon’s authorities have been reluctant to set up camps, not least because it is already home to 12 official Palestinian refugee camps of more than 400,000 inhabitants. Some Lebanese oppose camps because they fear they could become permanent, further inflame divisions and provide a safe haven for Syrian militants.
Fighters from Lebanon's Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah have played a significant role in helping Syria's president recapture border towns from Sunni rebels. Bekaa Valley towns loyal to Hezbollah have come under rocket fire, reported to be by Syrian rebel fighters whose own ranks are swelled by Lebanese Sunnis. Some experts fear the Syrian conflict could move deeper into Lebanese territory.