UN: Syrian Refugees in Lebanon to Reach 2.3 Million in 2014

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For over two and half years, Syrian refugees have been pouring into neighboring Lebanon, escaping the bloody conflict taking place in their country. (Photo: Marwan Bu Haidar)

By: Mouhamad Wehbe

Published Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lebanon’s population is set to increase from a little over 4 million today to 6.4 million by 2014 if the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) estimate of Syrian refugee growth is accurate.

For over two and half years, Syrian refugees have been pouring into neighboring Lebanon, escaping the bloody conflict taking place in their country. Yet the Lebanese government has done very little to try to understand this development and what kind of impact it will have on the Lebanese economy and the livelihood of its citizens.

Lebanese officials have dealt with the issue by way of international agencies and NGOs, allowing them to do much of the work on the ground, while government representatives have focused on attending donor conferences, hoping to get a slice of the pie, something that the Lebanese state has mastered over the years.

To this day, no serious study has been conducted on Syrian refugees in Lebanon and their economic and social impact on their host country. There are, however, two attempts by ESCWA and the World Bank to come to terms with the impact such a large refugee population will have on the Lebanese economy.

Both studies agree that Lebanon is taking a beating as a result of the Syrian crisis, with its economy losing somewhere between $7.6 billion and $11 billion since the start of the uprising. This suggests, according to the studies, that Lebanon’s GDP per capita will decline between $1,800 and $3,000 over the course of three years.

Former labor minister Charbel Nahas, however, questions some of the results in the two studies because they don’t take into account the contribution made by these refugees to the overall GDP. Inevitably, the refugee population must be spending money to meet their daily needs and they must have a source of income or assistance to allow them to do so.

There are three possible ways that refugees are able to do this: 1) They are spending whatever savings they brought with them from Syria; 2) They rely on foreign assistance; and 3) They have found employment locally.

Therefore, according to Nahas, these sources of income must be taken into account to get a more accurate picture of how such a large number of refugees will affect the standard of living in Lebanon. But what the former minister finds most shocking about all this is the Lebanese government’s complete absence when it comes to an issue that is bound to have a powerful – possibly, devastating – impact on the country’s economy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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