In the past few years Lebanese communities have generously taken in and protected Syrians fleeing from the unbearable suffering brought by the war. Lebanese people have shown remarkable solidarity. Lebanon kept its borders open until early 2015. Since then admission is restricted to those who can provide proof that their stay in Lebanon fits into one of the approved Government categories for entry.
The strain of the refugee influx on host communities is enormous, and is felt in Lebanon more than in any other country in the region. A joint UN - World Bank study in 2013
It is recognized that Lebanon requires continuous international support to deal with this challenge. The World Bank has stated that despite modest growth in economic activity, spillover effects from the Syrian crisis have imposed a heavy toll on Lebanon's economy through the disruption of trade, reduction in cross-border investment, evaporation of tourism, and increased pressure on public services.
In order to address the strain on Lebanon, a shift in the international support in 2015-2016 aims at maintaining peace, security and stability at a time of high vulnerability and unprecedented threats. It is foreseen that the Government of Lebanon (GoL) and national and international partners will deliver integrated and mutually reinforcing humanitarian and stabilization interventions. Humanitarian operations in Lebanon are transitioning from ‘emergency’ to ‘protracted’
UNHCR's Support Strategy for Syrian Refugees
At the onset of the crisis, UNHCR led the humanitarian inter-agency refugee response in close coordination with the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) and the Ministry of Social Affairs, and with the support of almost 80 humanitarian actors including UN World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), as well as local and international non-government organizations. In order to respond to the immediate needs caused by the crisis, UNHCR put in place a regional strategy and coordination framework to address the needs for protection and assistance of refugees fleeing from the Syrian Arab Republic into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. This Regional Humanitarian Response Framework has evolved since the first plan in 2012, and was transformed in 2015 into an integrated humanitarian and stabilization/resilience plan, intended to respond to the needs of refugees and affected local communities in the host countries, while also focusing on the need to stabilize the countries. This response is jointly led by the host country, UNHCR, and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In Lebanon it is called the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan
The three response areas of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan address urgent humanitarian needs for the most vulnerable populations in Lebanon, particularly Syrian refugees, as well as the coping capacity of all crisis-affected communities and certain deeper-rooted development gaps that can be addressed in the short term. Interventions are based on identified needs, capacity to implement and the potential to scale up for a positive impact on stabilization.
Other UNHCR program activities cover a variety of humanitarian sectors, including protection; health, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); basic assistance, institutional and community support; and inter-agency coordination.
One example of the shift of the intervention strategy of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2015 and 2016 has been strengthening and using national systems to respond to needs of refugees and nationals, i.e. the donor consortium channeling education support directly to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s national strategy on how to ‘Reach All Children with Education’ (RACE).
The education sector has led the way, with the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education, supported by the international community, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNESCO have supported the enrollment of more children and the improvement of the delivery of high quality education to both Syrian and Lebanese children, thus allowing them to continue certified education, while strengthening the system to improve service delivery in the longer term for Lebanese children.
A basis for the work of UNHCR and its partners is to have a better understanding of needs and the current living situation of refugee communities in Lebanon. One way that this is done is through conducting a vulnerability analysis that looks at economic vulnerability from the perspective of multi-sector outcomes. This vulnerability analysis helps to identify where lack of economic resources contributes to multiple problems, e.g. poor food security, shelter, health, education or protection outcomes. With support from donors and in cooperation with NGO partners, an annual 'Vulnerability Assessment for Syrian Refugees (VASyR)' framework was established in 2013 led by WFP and carried-out jointly with UNHCR and UNICEF. In 2015, the 'Vulnerability Assessment for Syrian Refugees' surveyed 4.300 refugee households across the country, using a multi-sectoral approach aimed at providing a picture of vulnerability at the household level. Key food security indicators – such as household expenditure and dietary diversity, as well as, health status, shelter condition, education and family composition – were surveyed. The 'Vulnerability Assessment for Syrian Refugees' allows humanitarian stakeholders to understand the profile of the refugee community, and to define the characteristics of the various socio-economic groups within the community.
Characteristics of the Syrian Refugee Population in Lebanon
The 'Vulnerability Assessment for Syrian Refugees' 2015, found that for the second year running, the average household size decreased from 6.6 members in 2014 to 5.3. Large households were significantly less common; only 25 percent had seven members or more, compared with 40 percent in 2014. One reason for this is that when people were first displaced, they shared shelter with extended families; as they became more settled, they have been able to re-establish the household groupings that they had in Syria.
Diagram 2: Population Pyramid of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon (© UNHCR)
Diagram 2: Population Pyramid of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon (© UNHCR)
48 percent of the Syrian refugee population of Lebanon is below the age of 15, and 36 percent below the age of 10. The average household head was 39 years old and 81 percent of household heads were male. Although they still make up less than one fifth of total heads (19 percent), the number of women leading households is higher than in 2014 (16 percent) and much more so than in 2013 (11 percent). Community discussions suggest than many of the men have remained or died in Syria. 5.4 percent of households were headed by an adult age 60 or older, only 1 percent of households in the survey were headed by a child under the age of 18. Almost 27 percent of households reported having at least one member with specific needs
There are no refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon. Instead, Syrian refugees live in more than 1.700 locations across Lebanon. Based on surveys and established trends, some 55 percent of all refugees rent apartments, often sharing small basic lodgings with other refugee families in overcrowded conditions. The remaining 45 percent live in fragile environments such as tents in informal settlements, and sub-standard shelter including garages, worksites and unfinished buildings. Nearly half of Syrian refugees (44 percent) have only one room in their residence, often shared with one or more families.
The findings of the vulnerability analysis confirm that Syrian refugees are highly vulnerable, with a vast majority poor today, and poorer each year. Based on household expenditure data in 2015, more than half of households (52 percent) were below the survival minimum expenditure basket
In an effort to better assist Syrians in Lebanon, UNHCR and partner organizations began delivering a portion of their assistance as multi-purpose cash grants. UNHCR is using cash-based interventions as an effective form of aid for mitigating the impact of severe poverty within the refugee communities. This form of aid is a more dignified way of assisting affected populations, as it empowers people to determine their own priorities and the best way of meeting them. Recent research shows that cash assistance also works well for assisting refugees, but the full effectiveness is constrained by aspects of refugee policy in host countries.
This finding is also supported by a World Bank report
In order to address this, UNHCR prioritizes program interventions in 2016 that aim to enhance the resilience of refuge communities and individuals, using Government facilities and services to deliver assistance – for example education needs for children through an integrated approach while ensuring at the same time the delivery of regular and seasonal basic assistance through cash transfers to the poorest of refugees. However, UNHCR relies entirely on voluntary contributions from donors and partners to respond to unprecedented levels of needs. As assistance programs cannot stand alone, UNHCR highlights the importance to promote additional mechanisms and programs that aim to provide economic growth and opportunities in order to improve and transform the lives of host population and refugees caught up in the Syrian crisis. Key part of this support is for neighboring countries, like Lebanon, who are shouldering the largest share of the Syrian displacement.
UNHCR in brief
Created by UN member states to care for the world’s refugees, the Office of the