Lebanon's 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990, forced hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to flee to other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and Brazil. Although this summer's fighting between Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and Israel lasted just over a month (July 12 to August 14), the conflict essentially wiped out 15 years of postwar reconstruction and development and displaced an estimated one million Lebanese, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Of those, about 750,000 were internally displaced and 250,000 crossed the border, primarily to Syria.
Once the fighting ceased, many refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs)were able to return to their area of origin but their homes, in many cases, were destroyed. An estimated 200,000 were still displaced within Lebanon as of November 1, according to UNHCR estimates. Due to severe infrastructure damage, the presence of explosive devices in residential areas, and the loss of traditional community support structures, among other factors, UNHCR believes displacement will continue for another 18 to 24 months.
Shortly after the conflict began, Western governments' scramble to evacuate their citizens made international headlines. About 15,000 American citizens (many of Lebanese origin) were evacuated, as were thousands of Europeans and Australians.
However, Lebanon's numerous foreign workers — Sri Lankans, Egyptians, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indians, Ethiopians, and others — faced more obstacles. In some cases, employers refused to let them leave; in others, the home-country's embassy in Lebanon lacked the resources to help them, or the home country had no diplomatic presence in Lebanon. As of late September, over 6,500 Filipinos and 6,200 Sri Lankans had been repatriated.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) halted the deployment of Filipino workers to Lebanon shortly after the conflict started. At press time, the ban had not yet been lifted, though the government has acknowledged that some workers have returned to Lebanon in defiance of its policy.
Lebanon is also home to nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees, some of whom were displaced during the fighting. In an ironic twist, approximately 20,000 displaced Lebanese and Palestinians took shelter in Palestinian refugee camps and other facilities run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
The Lebanese government has included multimillion-dollar UNRWA projects in its recovery plan. As UNRWA Commisioner-General Karen Abu-Zayd told a UN General Assembly committee in October, "We appreciate this as a clear message that the improvement of refugee living conditions is part and parcel of reconstruction and rebuilding in southern Lebanon."
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