Syria Refugee Influx Taxes Lebanese Economy and Nerves


Abu Faruq, a kiosk owner in an upscale Beirut district, does not hide his opinion about the influx of Syrian refugees: "Lebanon is occupied by foreigners," he grumbled. "They're ruining us."

As the conflict in neighboring Syria stretches into a third year, a wave of refugees has flooded Lebanon, stretching its economy and testing its resources as well the nerves of its citizens.

The United Nations says that at least 474,000 Syrian refugees have entered Lebanon, but experts say the figure could be closer to 700,000, in a country with a population of more than four million.

"May God be with the Lebanese people... Lebanon can't take them all," Abu Faruq said.

Ali, a taxi driver, is equally incensed, saying the influx threatens his livelihood.

"They're taking our customers," he said.

"Some of them are working as drivers without a license. No one stops them, no one can say anything."

Economists say the influx of refugees, and the conflict they are fleeing, has had a negative impact on Lebanon's economy.

Nassib Ghobril, chief economist at Lebanon's Byblos Bank, reeled off a string of alarming statistics: a 17.5 percent drop in tourist arrivals last year, following a 23.7 percent drop the year before, declining industrial exports, nosediving foreign direct investment (FDI) and a fall in both consumer and investor confidence.

"Consumer confidence dropped 37 percent in 2012, after a 29 percent drop in 2011, and FDI in Lebanon decreased by 68 percent in 2012," he told Agence France Presse.

"These are record lows since 2007," he added, saying that inflation was also on the rise.

And yet Syrians inside Lebanon are spending, packing cafes and restaurants in Beirut's trendy Zaitunay Bay, and encouraging landlords to demand ever higher rents in an already hot property market.

Half of the cars parked outside two serviced apartment buildings in the city have Damascus license plates.

But economists says the Syrians' consumption is not nearly enough to cover the overall losses to the economy.

"The impact is certainly a net negative," Ghobril said.

Lebanon's government is also feeling the pressure directly because it subsidizes basic goods such as bread and flour, and services like electricity and healthcare.

And the refugee population is growing at an alarming rate, with UN figures showing it has more than doubled since January, when it stood at around 200,000 people, to 474,461 in mid-May.

Not all those arriving are poverty-stricken. Some came early, rented homes and bought cars, enrolled their children in local schools and even started businesses.

In southern Sidon, a former Damascus resident who declined to give his name has set up a supermarket with a Lebanese partner on Quds Street, now home to several Syrian-run businesses.

"I left because of the shelling and the problems," he said, dragging on a cigarette.

"The profits just about cover the rent with a bit to get by, but in the future, if there's a solution in Syria, I'll definitely go back with my family."

He said locals have been receptive, and 32-year-old Fady Qambaz, a Lebanese citizen working his vegetable stand nearby, insists he has no problem with the newcomers.

"We say welcome to them and I hope God helps them, they're not doing anything wrong and we have to help them."

Other Syrians have had less luck and are forced to stretch their savings, stopping daily at local moneychangers to see whether the exchange rate is any more favorable.

Others have resorted to selling their valuables to jewelers like Bilal Abu Harb, who has a shop in Beirut's Hamra district.

"They have a child who needs to see a doctor or they need to pay their rent and they don't have any money," he said, rifling through a box filled with simple gold rings and pendants.

"It's really sad to see. When a man comes with his wife, you see they have tears in their eyes when they're selling, it's really terrible for them."

For those whose money has run out -- or who never had any to start with -- begging is the only option.

Near Abu Harb's shop, Syrian women clutching children mingle with shoppers and diners, hoping for a handout.

One woman stands dressed in a black overcoat, her face covered with a black veil that leaves only her downcast eyes visible.

Her arms are outstretched, one hand open for donations, the other simply displaying her Syrian passport.

Comments 10
Thumb mckinl 23 May 2013, 12:57

The KSA and Qatar have billions to displace all these people with their Qaeda brigades but won't help the people they say they want to give freedom ...

Thumb jcamerican 23 May 2013, 13:07

No Kidding. They support the rebels, but not the innocent civilians or victims. Lebanon with big heart, and no money or brains have to deal with the problem.

Thumb Chupachups 23 May 2013, 14:04

Syrians + Palestinians = Lebanon's problems

Thumb phoenician 23 May 2013, 14:22

Well said Error, Partition please.

Thumb mckinl 23 May 2013, 16:13

You are confused aren't you ... It is the KSA and Qatar that have been funding the Qaeda in Syria destabilizing Lebanon ...

That you think anyone believes this garbage you spout (not close to good enough to be called propaganda)only confirms how deluded you are.

Put down the bottle and sober up ...

Thumb mckinl 23 May 2013, 16:33

@ Sidon93

Yep business fell in 2011 just when the Syrian Civil War began with the help of the KSA and Qatar ...

Thumb mckinl 23 May 2013, 16:35

@ Sidon93


Anybody seen Bandar Bush? He can't be pleased with the Syria file. He should make an appearance to boost morale ... lol 1

Missing me__ 23 May 2013, 17:31

You are confused mr mckinl. If bashar was human he would have avoided this when it was still peaceful - of course now the doors are open to terrorists from all over the place (which is the best that could happen to him and enough for the west to stay away).... The world is not linear (think chaos only idiots think conspiracy

Thumb mckinl 23 May 2013, 18:15

The US had plans years old to overthrow Syria ... Assad couldn't avoid any of this ... Seymour Hersh wrote about the overthrow of Syria back in 2007 ... Syria was part of a list including Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and Iran.

You should acquaint yourself with some history: THE REDIRECTION

For the entire version:

Thumb mckinl 23 May 2013, 18:27

Here listen to this:

Gen Wesley Clark Reveals US Plan To Invade Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Lybia ...