Lebanon Planning Transit Sites for Syrian Refugees: Minister

Lebanese officials are planning two more transit sites for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abou Faour said today.

Each site can temporarily house as many as 350 families as they’re being processed, Abou Faour said in a telephone interview. Lebanon has already set up one site just inside its border, he said.

More than 800,000 Syrian refugees have fled their country’s war into Lebanon, Abou Faour said. That number is expected to rise as fighting rages in Qalamoun, a mountainous region adjacent to the border with Lebanon, where the government is trying to cut rebel supply lines.

Lebanon has taken in at least 1,700 families in the Bekaa Valley town of Ersal over the last few days, Abou Faour said.

The influx into the country of 4.3 million has strained Lebanon’s budget with increased spending on the refugees’ educational and medical needs, Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi said last month.

The World Bank said in a a Sept. 24 statement that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is expected to reach 1.3 million by the end of 2013.

Lebanon faces billions of dollars in lost economic activity as a result of the conflict, while the massive influx of refugees is overwhelming public services and risks driving up unemployment and poverty rates, according to the statement.

Unlike Turkey and Jordan, Lebanon has not set up camps for Syrian refugees, afraid that would heighten sectarian tensions already inflamed by the war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and mostly Sunni rebels. Shiites, Sunnis and Christians each make up roughly a third of the Lebanese population, and the country fought its own sectarian civil war from 1975 to 1990.

Lebanon already houses 455,000 mostly Sunni Palestinians in 12 refugee camps, and the majority of Syrian refugees are Sunni. The Palestinians, like Syria, were a major player in Lebanon’s civil war.

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