Some countries are better placed to cope with this tragic influx of people, mostly the old, the very young, or women, fleeing for their lives; but not all are.
Aid agencies have warned that Lebanon may be overwhelmed and destabilised by the consequences of the war. There are already around 1m refugees in the country and another 500,000 are anticipated this year. This puts an enormous strain on the country, one with a population more or less on a par with our own. It is certain that we could not support 1.5m refugees with any degree of dignity or comfort but that is what Lebanon is being asked to do. The challenge seems all but impossible even with what seems significant international aid.
The costs are enormous and a recent UN and World Bank report suggested that the cost to the Lebanese economy could reach €5.4bn this year. It does not end there: The report also warned that as many as 340,000 Lebanese could lose their jobs because of the war and 170,000 people could fall below the poverty line as a result.
Ireland has given just over €8m to help resolve the Syrian refugee crisis already.
Last August, when the House of Commons voted against British military intervention to try to stop President Bashar al-Assad’s government using chemical weapons against its own population, the unexpected result provoked a flurry of promises about aid to Assad’s opponents and, even more importantly, to the countries bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis. Some aid has materialised but, as is nearly always the case in these all-too-frequent situations, it is not nearly enough to turn the tide. The situation is exacerbated by the Lebanese government’s opposition to formal refugee camps which forces refugees into the most basic shelter or rented accommodation.
There are something over 10.5m refugees in the world. Nearly half — some 4.8m people — live in one of 60 camps across the Middle East run by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which was set up in 1949 to care for displaced Palestinians. If you consider the great numbers of people forced to migrate, often illegally, to First World countries to try to escape life-threatening poverty, then the refugee, political or economic, picture becomes even more harrowing.
The very scale of this problem and all of the heartbreak, injustice, exploitation, and straightforward cruelty it facilitates, represents one of the greatest challenges facing the world. Unfortunately, our response seems inadequate, a judgment made all the more chastening by the regularity — and predictability —of these human tragedies.