Lebanon knows only too well what a civil war means and how it can destroy a country. Now it has to deal with a growing refugee problem. A country that was dragged into a civil war due to the Palestinian refugee question, is now facing a Syrian refugee problem. Lebanese interior ministry officials estimate that there are more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in the country, and say that new restrictions are necessary because their tiny country simply cannot absorb any more refugees. For Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million, the flood of Syrian refugees has placed a tremendous strain on the country's economy, resources, infrastructure and delicate sectarian balance. "The U.N. refugee agency is seeking clarification on several aspects of the rules, including how they will impact refugees already in Lebanon, and whether people in immediate need of protection will still be allowed in," said Ron Redmond, a regional spokesman for UNHCR.
Lebanon began imposing tighter restrictions on a more informal basis last summer. Since then, the number of refugee registrations in Lebanon has dropped by more than 50 percent, Redmond said. "That's an indication that a lot of people aren't getting in here," he continued, saying "But still, people are getting through, and we want to ensure that the most vulnerable do get through...These governments have been so stressed, and these countries put under such pressure with these huge numbers of refugees coming across, that we can understand why they feel it's necessary to take action," Redmond said. "We just want to ensure that nobody is being sent back to danger." The new restrictions, published on Lebanon's general security website, seemingly make no provisions for asylum seekers. But a security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Associated Press, said urgent humanitarian cases could still enter.
However, the refugees who already live in the camps in Lebanon are struggling to survive, since one of the strongest winter storms in the region has made life tougher for hundreds of thousands of refugees who live with inadequate services. On Jan. 7, Lebanon's national news agency reported two deaths, including an eight year old child. The U.N. has already confirmed that three Syrian refugees had frozen to death. Another incident was reported from Bakaa Valley, where a nine-year-old girl died of cold while she was on her way to receive clothes from an aid truck. Last week it was reported that a 50-year-old woman died as temperature was below zero. With reports from other refugee camps in the country, it is known that at least 14 people have died from the cold, and the number is likely to increase as officials have not done anything yet to better the conditions or to supply materials for warmth.