A displaced Syrian child, who was forced to leave his hometown by the war against the Islamic State (IS) group, is seen at the Ain Issa camp on December 18, 2017. As temperatures drop, tens of thousands of civilians forced out of their homes by Syria’s war are spending yet another winter in flimsy plastic tents or abandoned half-finished buildings. And without heating, blankets and warm clothes, or access to proper medical care, even a simple cold can turn deadly. / AFP PHOTO / Delil souleiman
The number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon has dropped to below one million for the first time since 2014, the United Nations told AFP on Tuesday.
As of the end of November, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) counted 997,905 Syrian refugees — a vast majority of them women and children — registered in Lebanon.
“The number reached one million in April 2014, and this is the first time it drops below that,” UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled told AFP.
Numbers were decreasing, Abou Khaled said, as refugees had resettled in third countries, returned to their homes in Syria, or passed away.
From 2011 until September this year, nearly 49,000 Syrians left Lebanon as part of the United Nations’ resettlement programme to third countries including the United States, Sweden, and France.
Others left on their own, making the dangerous sea journey to reach Europe.
“We cannot confirm how many returned to Syria. They don’t necessarily tell us, but we know it’s a few thousand in 2017,” Abou Khaled said.
She said the United Nations revised its numbers on a quarterly basis to assess who remained in Lebanon and what support they required.
In December 2016, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon was 1,011,366.
In the first six months of 2017, it dropped by 10,315, then again by more than 3,000 between June and November 31.
More than five million Syrians have fled the country’s conflict since 2011 to neighbouring Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, and even higher numbers are displaced internally.
The influx has tested Lebanon, a country of just four million that already struggled with overstretched resources.
More than half of registered Syrians in Lebanon live in extreme poverty, struggling to eke out a living while sheltering in informal tented settlements or unfinished buildings.
Lebanese politicians have increased their calls in recent months for refugees to return home, with large parts of the country under government control but left in ruins.