Thursday 19 July 2018

Far from the global spotlight, Lebanon is left simmering - we ignore it at our peril

Volunteers gather winter clothes to be distributed for Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon
Volunteers gather winter clothes to be distributed for Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon

Lorraine Courtney

The winding alleys of Burj al-Barajneh in south Beirut are plastered with portraits of the victims, mostly young boys, who were killed in twin suicide blasts on November 12. Isil claimed responsibility for the attacks, in which a bomber detonated his explosives next to a crowded bakery as people flowed on to the street after sunset prayers. But this is life in Lebanon, the country that hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees in the world.

There have been many voices complaining that the Paris attacks received more attention than similar attacks in Lebanon, and that the global news agenda is more sensitive about the loss of white Western lives than others. This disparity in reactions underlines the sense in this region of being left alone to bear the brunt of Syria's deadly five-year war. For the Lebanese, their own ineffective government has been little help either, plagued as it is with gridlock and corruption that have engendered electricity and water shortages and, most recently, a collapse of the rubbish collection.

The EU regards the arrival of a million or so refugees as a major emergency but Lebanon, a country the size of a postage stamp, has absorbed more than a million Syrians, who mostly fled with little more than the clothes they were wearing. There are refugees living in garages, in an abandoned chicken farm, mixed into the jumble of Lebanon. You can have four or five families under one roof and each has a story unheard, untold.

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