BEIRUT — The number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon surpassed 1 million Thursday, the United Nations said, marking a “devastating milestone,” even as many more continue to arrive each day.
Tiny Lebanon has borne a disproportionate burden of the refugee crisis that has arisen from the 3-year-old Syrian conflict.
The vast influx of Syrians has contributed to political, social and economic instability in this strategically situated nation wedged between Syria, Israel and the Mediterranean.
Lebanon, with an estimated population of 4.5 million, now has the distinction of housing the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world, the U.N. says.
Each day in Lebanon, the U.N. says it registers 2,500 new refugees — more than one person a minute.
“The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country,” Antonio Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement. “For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering.”
Aid agencies call Syria’s war the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the century so far. Massive numbers of Syrians also have fled to other neighboring nations, including Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, as well as to Egypt, Europe and elsewhere.
The U.N. decided to highlight the 1 million milestone publicly in the hope that member nations and other donors would step up assistance. Aid agencies here face a substantial funding shortfall amid ever-escalating demand for services.
Cross-over violence from the Syrian conflict has only made things worse in Lebanon, threatening the stability of a nation still fragile from its own protracted civil war, which ended in 1990.
In fact, the number of Syrians in Lebanon far exceeds 1 million; that figure includes only those who have registered with the U.N., a complex process that triggers eligibility for food aid, healthcare services and other benefits. Tens of thousands of Syrians are not registered because of fear, lack of documentation, confusion and other factors.
By some estimates, as many as one in every four people living in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Lebanon is also home to more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees.
Many Syrians here crowd into cramped and overpriced apartments or find shelter in garages, abandoned buildings, tents and other forms of substandard accommodations. The vast majority do not reside in camps.
While officials have applauded Lebanon for opening its doors to needy Syrians, the influx has generated profound social tensions. Many Lebanese regularly blame Syrians for a range of problems, from petty crime to rising prices to electrical blackouts to an explosion of beggars in the streets of Beirut and elsewhere.
The influx has strained public services, battered the economy and even lowered wages, as the labor supply has expanded rapidly.
The number of school-age children among the refugees is 400,000, surpassing the total of Lebanese children in public schools. Most Syrian refugee children in Lebanon do not receive a regular education, the U.N. says. Many minors work, and in some cases girls marry young in the hope of improving their lives.
Overall, the U.N. says, the Syrian war has forced more than 2.5 million Syrians to flee their homeland, while an additional 6.5 million have been displaced inside Syria. Amid the roster of grim statistics, the war continues to rage in Syria with no sign of an imminent diplomatic or military solution.