The Economic Impact of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon: What It Means for Current Policies

World Refugee & Migration Council Research Report

Cathrine Brun, Ali Fakih, Maha Shuayb and Mohammad Hammoud

This research report was produced for the World Refugee & Migration Council’s Syrian Refugees in Jordan and the Region project with support from the International Development Research Centre.

Thinking Long-term about Syrian Refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey

The Syrian conflict has now passed the ten-year mark and the region is attempting to cope with multiple crises. As Lebanon’s economic crisis is bringing the country to a full collapse, tensions within the Lebanese population as well as between Lebanese and refugees are likely to increase. At the same time, there is a greater need to think of alternative economic solutions that can lessen the impact of the economic crisis on those most vulnerable, including refugees. 

In this study, commissioned by the World Refugee & Migration Council (WRMC), we focus on the impact of the refugee crisis and policies on Lebanon’s economic situation and propose alternative solutions that could support refugees and hosts amid the collapse of the economy, following decades of mismanagement and corruption of the Lebanese political system. Culminating in “the country’s largest peace-time economic and financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Port of Beirut explosion — with deliberately inadequate policy responses”, we are writing this report in the context of a deep and ongoing governance crisis. 

Lebanon hosts the highest number of refugees per capita in the world, with the government estimating that 1.5 million Syrian refugees reside in the country, of which just over 855,000 are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In addition, more than 479,000 Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, although the numbers residing in Lebanon are believed to be less than 200,000 and there are believed to be just under 20,000 Palestinian Syrians residing in the country. 

“It is estimated that approximately 23.2 per cent of Lebanese have been plunged into extreme poverty but due to existing data gaps, further data is needed to fully understand the extent of the situation. Some 91 per cent of displaced Syrians are living on less than $2.90 per day. At the same time, income opportunities have drastically shrunk due to the sharp economic slowdown the country has seen over the past twelve months. The planned removal of import subsidies is expected to add an unbearable strain on households’ purchasing power, with the price of bread potentially multiplied by 1.5 to 3 and that of fuel by 4.5.”

A recent report by UNICEF covering Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians shows that 77 percent of families do not have enough food (UNICEF 2021). The Syrian refugees arrived to a deeply unequal society and these inequalities have been aggravated and deepened during the time the Syrian refugees have been in Lebanon. Under these conditions, refugees are often used as scapegoats, especially by some political factions blamed for the economic crisis and for the miseries that people have experienced. The arrival of refugees has placed pressure on infrastructure, housing prices (in some areas) and livelihoods. However, as we show in this report, at the macro level, the economy’s downturn is not caused by the arrival of the refugees, it is a “humanitarian crisis within an economic crisis” (LCRP 2021). In fact, as other authors have concluded, the financial crisis predates the arrival of Syrian refugees, which began in 2011. 

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