Influx of Christian refugees from Syria find refuge in the Lebanon
According to information at the disposal of the Society for Threatened Peoples, an increasing number of Christians are fleeing Syria. Most of them escape across the border and seek refuge in the Lebanon. Numbers have since risen to at least 7,000 and refugees are accommodated in the Christian Lebanese communities on the Mediterranean coast to the north of the country. According to reports, about 1,000 Christian families from Syria have been given shelter. Kamal Sido, the STP’s Middle East expert, issued a report on Tuesday in Göttingen: “For fear of becoming involved in the bloody Syrian civil war, the Lebanese state often fails to provide the Syrian refugees with the required aid”. The Lebanese government is unwilling to set up any refugee camps for the time being, because it believes these camps might turn into rebel strongholds.
The Christian communities in the Lebanon expect even more refugees to arrive during the next few days, in particular from the North Syrian city of Aleppo, where Bashar al-Assad’s troops have been fighting the rebels with assault helicopters and artillery forces for twelve days now. Meanwhile, the Sunni rebels are responding with tanks and artillery they seized from Assad’s army. The Aleppo districts of Aziziye, Sulaymanye, Al-Maydan and Al-Suryan, which are mainly inhabited by Christians, have escaped fighting so far. Should the rebels infiltrate the area, however, the troops loyal to the government will waste no time in attacking, and the Christians will be forced to leave the city, Sido warned. In all probability, most of them will escape to the Lebanon.
The Lebanon is the only Middle East country that still has a large Christian population. Christians represent about 39 per cent of the 4.5 million inhabitants. As Sido pointed out, against the backdrop of a long history of religious conflicts and in the interests of religious balance in the Lebanon, the Lebanese non-Christian communities are unlikely to agree to any long-term accommodation plan for Christians fleeing from Syria.
In view of the escalating violence, over 123,000 refugees from Syria have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. According to information from UNHCR, the UN refugee association, 33,871 Syrians were registered as refugees in the Lebanon on August 3. 2012. The true figure is likely to be much higher, however, as many fugitives refuse to be registered. Some sources are already talking in terms of 100,000 Syrians in the Lebanon. About 60 per cent of them have taken refuge in the north of the country, and around 35 per cent in the Bekaa Plain - the Lebanon’s two poorest regions. The remaining 5 per cent live near Beirut. Of the refugees sheltering in Northern Lebanon, 80 per cent are staying with host families, ten per cent have been accommodated in makeshift camps and ten per cent are paying rent.