Lebanon


lebanon

Lebanon is a small country with a big history, but also with big problems. As you travel between the impressive historical sights you'll see refugee camps. It would be very hard not to, for this country of just 4 million people has provided a safe haven to almost 2 million refugees. That means approximately one in every three people currently living in Lebanon are refugees unable to return home.


Lebanon lies at the crossroads of East and West. It has only two neighbours, Syria in the north and the east, and Israel in the South. The Mediterranean, and Europe, lie to the West.

For thousands of years it has been an important centre for trade and commerce. The City of Byblos is one of the world's oldest continually inhabited towns. The cities of Sidon and Tyre are mentioned frequently in the Bible. The ground is so full of ancient ruins that landowners are cautious about reporting archaeological finds to the Government lest their land is reclaimed.

ruins

We visited Sidon, Tyre, Byblos and Baalbek, but all the while there is the metaphorical 'elephant in the room', it is refugees and the large UN and military contingent required to support and control the unauthorised flow of people into (and out of) Lebanon.


Lebanon is a small country, only 10,400 square kilometres. It has a population of around 4 million people. It is currently playing host to over 2 million refugees. One point six million have fled from the conflict in Syria, while over half a million have fled from Israel. They now occupy temporary and semi-permanent camps in both the north and south of the country.

The temporary white plastic shelters, distributed by the UNHCR, are visible along side the roads in major towns in the north near the Bekaa Valley. These are Syrians fleeing the civil war. In the south the structures are more permanent; wooden and concrete dwellings within guarded compounds. These are Palestinian refugees, the oldest amongst them fled from the conflict with Israel almost 70 years ago.

tents

The Syrians are fortunate. They have papers and when the conflict is over they can return to Syria. The Palestinians are not so lucky. They are State-less. Here they exist in a state of limbo, unable to return to their homes across the border and unable to leave Lebanon. Those born in the camps enjoy no special privilege. They too are deemed Palestinans and wait for a time when a Palestinian state is established so that they can return there. Who knows how long that will be?


After only a short trip to Lebanon I can see that this country has a clear stake in the establishment of a Palestinian state and in the resolution of the civil war in Syria. Without this the country will continue to host large numbers of refugees. They are a distraction from the country's own internal problems, still present after a long and bloody civil war from 1975-1990, as well as the country's external problems, most importantly its strained relationship with Israel.

As I write this an old adage pops into my head 'Never borrow trouble', unfortunately for the Lebanese 'trouble' has been pressed upon them whether they like it or not.


Where on earth....

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