Refugees from Syria, half of them children, now equal a quarter of Lebanon’s resident population, the UNHCR said in a statement, warning that most of them live in poverty and depend on aid for survival.
The UN agency said the figure is “a devastating milestone worsened by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point”.
Tiny Lebanon has now become the country with “the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide,” and is “struggling to keep pace”, the statement said.
“The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering,” UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said in the statement.
Syria’s three-year war has killed more than 150,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights while half of the population is estimated to have fled their homes.
Of those who have fled Syria, nearly 600,000 have registered as refugees in Jordan and around 670,000 in Turkey.
According to the Guterres, “Lebanon has experienced serious economic shocks due to the conflict in Syria”, while security has deteriorated as a result of rising regional instability.
The influx has put severe strains on Lebanon’s health and education sectors as well as on electricity, water and sanitation services.
“The Lebanese people have shown striking generosity, but are struggling to cope. Lebanon hosts the highest concentration of refugees in recent history,” Guterres said.
The UNHCR chief urged the global community to boost its support for Lebanon.
“International support to government institutions and local communities is at a level that, although slowly increasing, is totally out of proportion with what is needed,” Guterres said.
The humanitarian appeal for Lebanon “is only 13 percent funded,” even as the needs of a rapidly growing refugee population become ever more pressing.
Half the refugees are children, the UNHCR report said.
“The number of school-aged children is now over 400,000, eclipsing the number of Lebanese children in public schools. These schools have opened their doors to over 100,000 refugees, yet the ability to accept more is severely limited,” it added.
The vast majority of Syrian refugee children, however, are out of school.
Because of the dire economic situation their families endure, many children are now working, “girls can be married young and the prospect of a better future recedes the longer they remain out of school,” it said.