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One Million Refugees

April 3, 2014
Ahmad, 13, and his siblings come to watch their mother be examined by volunteer Dr. Batley. He brings a candle to show the doctor the frostbite on his mothers feet that is badly infected. There house has no running water, electricity, or furniture. The woman rest on a small mat on the floor of a dark shelter that the family of ten occupied when they fled the fighting in Al Qusair, Syria. Photo by Omar Alkalouti.

Ahmad, 13, and his siblings come to watch their mother be examined by volunteer Dr. Batley, part of the group providing aid in the area, Lebanese for Syrians. He brings a candle to show the doctor the frostbite on his mothers feet that is badly infected. There house has no running water, electricity, or furniture. The woman rest on a small mat on the floor of a dark shelter that the family of ten occupied when they fled the fighting in Al Qusair, Syria. Photo by Omar Alkalouti.

Today, the millionth refugee was registered in Tripoli, Lebanon. His name is Yehya. He is a 19-year-old from Homs. Yehya was trapped in Homs for two years before he fled to Yabroud, a border city. Finally, one month ago, he came to Lebanon. And today, he registered.

According to Andrew McConnell, photographer for the UNHCR, Yehya said, “People think it’s easy to be a refugee, but in fact, it is the hardest choice.”

Going into the fourth year of Syria’s civil war, more than 150,000 people are estimated to have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates more than 500,000 have been wounded. Refugees are pouring across  borders, with more than 2.5 million registered in neighboring countries.

Lebanon is a small country, with a population around 4.5 million. The impact of the refugee influx is staggering. According to the UNHCR, they register about 2,500 new refugees per day – a number that equals more than a person each minute. The agency also says that per-capita, Lebanon has the highest concentration of refugees in the world in recent history. Not to mention, one million is the number for only the registered. According to Lebanese officials, the number of unofficial Syrian refugees in the country could be as high as 400,000. And the economic impact on Lebanon is immense – according to the UNHCR, the neighboring crisis in Syria cost the country $2.5 billion in lost activity last year. Jobs are impacted. Communities are impacted. Every aspect of lives are impacted.

There are many who are helping, and I have much respect for those who are doing so. But I can’t help but read all of the news today about the millionth refugee and wonder if anything is going to change. Is one million just another number? Will all of this attention bring more attention, more aid, more awareness to the crisis that is engulfing this region and particularly Lebanon – a country that has not only become a refuge but also a battleground for Syrian spillover. I can only hope so, for all of the people’s sake – Syrian, Lebanese and others – whose lives have been, are being, and will be, forever changed by this terrible war.

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