A Daily Struggle to Survive: Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Well into the fourth year of the conflict in Syria, it is clear that Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries will not be able to return home in the near future. In Lebanon, where one in four residents is a Syrian refugee, the demands of providing emergency assistance to refugees while trying to support disadvantaged host communities have become especially complex.

Lebanon’s government has not been able to come to agreement on approving a range of support projects for both Syrian refugees and disadvantaged Lebanese nationals. And while this political debate goes on, tensions between hosts and guests continue to rise. Having recognized the need to assist both of these vulnerable groups, the Lebanese government, donors, and aid agencies must refine their collaboration in a way that will continue and increase assistance, while making the most strategic use of ever-scarcer funding.


Amel Center, Haret Hreik, Beirut, Lebanon
Shatila refugee camp, Beirut, Lebanon.


Every month thousands of Syrian refugees arrive at Lebanon’s border seeking safety. While the Lebanon government continues to let them in, it is increasingly adamant that it cannot continue to accept refugees without additional assistance from the rest of the world. With more than one million Syrians in the country, the refugees now make up a quarter of the resident population. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), “Lebanon has become the country with the highest per-capita concentration of refugees worldwide, struggling to keep pace with a crisis that shows no signs of slowing.” This situation is made more complex by the fact that an underprivileged Lebanese population of even larger size lives right alongside the Syrians but receives far less assistance. 

Lifesaving aid has been the central pillar of the humanitarian response in Lebanon for four years now. Due to ongoing violence in Syria, continuous refugee arrivals in host countries, and difficulty in keeping up with basic needs, emergency assistance like food aid and shelter is still required. But as the Syrian crisis becomes protracted, the focus is naturally turning toward longer-term development assistance. The transition from emergency to development aid cannot simply be based on how much time has passed. Rather, the everyday realities on the ground make it clear that a combined approach is needed because emergency assistance is still vital for so many of the displaced.


  • For 2015, the Lebanese government, the United Nations, and international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should utilize existing staff resources and in-country expertise to formulate a common set of assessments and strategies for addressing the needs of Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities.
  • The United Nations Refugee Agency should continue prioritizing support for emergency humanitarian aid, including rental assistance.
  • Donors to the aid response in Lebanon should support income-generating programs that increase the self-sufficiency of vulnerable populations in Lebanon.
  • Donors who have pledged to contribute to the Regional Response Plan for Syrian refugees should fulfill their commitments before year’s end.
  • INGOs working in Lebanon should develop, using existing case studies and available data, a uniform campaign message to educate the public and the international donor community that emergency humanitarian assistance is still required in Lebanon.

Daryl Grisgraber traveled to Beirut and Mount Lebanon Governorates in August 2014.