Al Abdeh, Lebanon – Late last year, Ali Mohamad Abdallah and his wife Abeer hunkered down in their home in the northern Syria city of Aleppo and faced a stark choice: Should they stay and risk getting caught in the crossfire? Or should they flee, even though Abeer was nine months pregnant?
“The fighting was so close that we could have died if we stayed – bombs hit the second floor of our building,” said Abdellah, 22, sitting inside a tent in an informal Syrian refugees camp outside this city on a thin strip of land next to the Mediterranean Sea. “So this way we had a chance, even though it was hard for Abeer.”
Abeer, 21, lay down next to him. Wedged in between them was their sleeping infant boy, born just two days before, stateless for the moment.
Their choice, unfortunately, was not unusual. In the last two years, the war in Syria has forced nearly 3 million people to leave their homes, often in great danger, to enter other countries, with Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey bearing the greatest brunt of the massive influx. Another 3.5 million people are estimated to be displaced inside Syria.
On the world stage, the response to the Syrian crisis is being discussed in capitals hundreds of miles away – in Kuwait City last week where donors grappled with the humanitarian crisis, and in Geneva this week as global political powers seek ways toward a peaceful solution.
All the while, though, refugees continue to pour out of Syria, with the greatest numbers flowing into Lebanon. In just one UNHCR registration camp in Tripoli, Lebanon, 15 kilometers south of Al Abdeh, officials have been registering 1000 Syrian refugees each day – and there’s a three-week waiting list for an appointment. It is one of five UNHCR registration points in the country.
The question for leaders whose countries border Syria is: How long can this continue without a major backlash and a serious deterioration of services to citizens?
And what will the world do to help?
Lebanon alone is hosting roughly 1.2 million Syrians, more than a quarter of its population. If the United States took in the same proportion of refugees, it would mean 70 million people flooding the country in 18 months, or double Canada’s population.
The World Bank Group, on the request of the Lebanese government, completed an economic and social impact assessment last fall that found the refugee population could reach 1.6 million in Lebanon, or 37 percent of the overall population, by the end of this year.
The report, which was completed in cooperation with other development partners, including United Nations agencies, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, found that the demand on public services has surged along with the population. It estimated that this rising demand could drive up government expenditures by an estimated US$1.1 billion over the 2012 to 2014 period. At the same time, government revenues are expected to drop by US$1.5 billion, due to interrupted trade and an erosion of business and consumer confidence.