LEBANON. Home to 40% of the refugees in the region, Lebanon quickly became the smallest country bearing the highest burden of the Syrian civil war.

Official numbers show that up to a million Syrian refugees are residing in Lebanon, but the government estimates the figure to be closer to 1.5 million – approximately 30% of the Lebanese population.

Despite its “open border policy” with Syria, the government still refuses to grant official recognition to refugee camps. As a result, Syrians are scattered around the country playing hide and seek with aid agencies and, at the same time, placing a heavy burden on the locals. Increased unemployment, higher rent, overcrowded schools, and strains on public services are just some of the problems the Lebanese have to face due to the Syrian crisis.

With 11,000 to 15,000 Syrian refugees crossing the border to Lebanon every week, adequate shelter is a serious problem. Building extensions and upgrades are permitted, but the building of new permanent structures has been declared illegal. The government is working with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to find large buildings, schools, and hospitals in order to convert them into collective shelters for the Syrians. All this at a time when Lebanese schools are already overcrowded and hospitals cannot cope with the rising demand for health services. Both the Lebanese and Syrian refugees are forced to live with these realities.

Anyone familiar with Lebanon’s history can understand the government´s fear of seeing Syrian refugees establish themselves in the country as many Palestinians have done.

Since 1948, 425,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Lebanon. 280,000 of them continue to reside in the country today. If a parallel can be drawn between the Syrian and Palestinian crises, what will happen to Lebanon if, once again, more than half of the refugees settle there permanently?

Sharing their country for more than 65 years with Palestinian refugees has made the Lebanese people skeptical about the newcomers fleeing from Syria. Palestinians have often been blamed for provoking wars with Israel, hiding terrorists and weapons in their camps, and even contributing to the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War.

With no end to the Syrian conflict in sight, UN agencies estimate the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to reach between 4 and 5 million by year´s end. Because of this, it is even less likely that the Lebanese will offer hosting arrangements. With no established refugee camps, 81.2% of Syrian refugees are paying increasingly expensive rent prices due to high demand. Oftentimes, low-income Lebanese lose their homes to Syrians who, in turn, are more willing to pay higher rent and share accommodation with more than one family.

Adding to their frustration, the Lebanese cannot benefit from the same assistance Syrian refugees receive although their economic situation is not much different.

Decreased wages and increased unemployment only make matters worse. The World Bank has estimated 170,000 Lebanese will be forced into poverty as a result of this crisis, adding to the one million already living below the poverty line.

The health sector has suffered as well. The combination of a decreased number of health workers, increased risk of disease outbreak, and a 40% rise in the utilization of health services not only limits Syrians´ access to clinics but also puts a heavy strain on the local population.

Things are no different when it comes to public education. 74% of Syrian refugees are of school age, but more than half do not attend school, mostly because of high registration fees which amount to $66 per child. Even with just a percentage of the refugees going to school, classrooms are overcrowded and the quality of schooling is affected. Consequently, tensions between Syrians and the local Lebanese population are growing constantly.

The UN issued the 2014 Syria Regional Response Plan for Lebanon, elaborating on the measures that the Lebanese government will take together with UN Agencies to address this issue. The plan includes formal tented settlements, support for tuition fees, second shifts in schools, and increased availability of physicians and drugs. Still, will Lebanon be able to manage the situation? Or will the Syrian crisis spill onto its territory and become a Lebanese crisis?