Lebanon is not bearing its refugee burden well. As the Syrian crisis hurtles through its fourth year, some 1.5 million Syrian refugees are weighing on the 4 million Lebanese population, along with another 40,000 Palestinians from Syria. There are no official refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon. Instead, most people cluster in already impoverished areas like Bekaa Valley, joining the 25 percent of all Lebanese citizens who live on less than $4 a day. Tensions between Lebanese and refugee populations are high, causing violent clashes over competition for employment, education and essential services. Electricity and water are scarce, especially during the summer, and services often inaccessible. Basic needs are unmet and funds are on the decline.
But some refugees are mobilizing to help themselves. In Bekaa Valley, a team of young Syrian volunteers pool donations funded via social media, then deliver critical aid to fellow refugees who can’t access UN and NGO services. In Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp, Syrian social entrepreneurs are training Palestinian and Syrian women to make a living via handicrafts, weaning themselves off dependence on aid. As regional crises worsen, refugees struggle to keep each other alive.