Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil warned Friday the Syrian refugee crisis may lead to “strife” in the tiny Mediterranean country between Syrians and Lebanese, should it remain unsolved.
“We believe the situation has reached breaking point, and I am echoing the words of security officials,” he said.
“If the situation continues to develop in this direction, there will be strife between the Lebanese and the Syrians.”
To highlight the scale of the influx, Bassil compared it to transferring the entire population of Romania to Britain or France.
Hosting more than 1.1 million Syrians fleeing their country’s three-year war, Lebanon is home to the highest number of Syrian refugees in the region, and also to the highest refugee population per capita in the world.
Bassil spoke at a news conference focusing on the refugee crisis a day after the United Nations warned that Syrian refugees will comprise more than a third of Lebanon’s population by the end of 2014.
He said it “is as though the whole of Romania’s population of 19 million moved to Britain or France, home to 63 million and 67 million people respectively”.
He also said that, out of Syria’s neighbours, Lebanon already had the highest density population at 370 people per square kilometre even before the Syrian war erupted in 2011.
“If we add 160 or 170 Syrians for each square kilometre, we now have 520 people per square kilometre in Lebanon,” Bassil said.
“The number of Syrians is already more than 35 percent, because there are large numbers who have not registered” with the UN, he said.
“In Turkey, however, Syrians only comprise 1.2 percent of the population, whereas in Iraq, the figure is 1.4 percent, and in Jordan it’s 18.5 percent.”
Calling for the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to be reduced, Bassil said they should not be helped financially because “that encourages them to stay”.
He also said the number of Syrian children in public sector primary and middle schools stands at 88,000 — 3,000 more than that of Lebanese and other foreigners combined.
Most Lebanese children attend private schools.
The medical sector has also been affected, Bassil said, noting that in one of Beirut’s biggest hospitals, “80 Syrian children were born in May, compared with 40 Lebanese children”.
He bemoaned the financial burden borne by Beirut because of the refugee crisis.
“Lebanon pays $100 million a month to provide free electricity to Syrian refugees,” said Bassil.
He also said an international fund set up to help Lebanon get through the crisis has only been given limited support, and that “even if funding reaches $100 million, that will barely be enough to pay for a month’s power”.