UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Lebanon's U.N. ambassador said Wednesday that his country is being overwhelmed by more than a million Syrian refugees who have crossed the border to flee the war.
The United Nations Security Council issued a statement thanking Lebanon for taking in 587,000 Syrian refugees. But Lebanese U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam told reporters that many more have come into Lebanon without registering and are staying with friends and families in informal asylum. He put the current total at "a million-plus."
Another estimated 500,000 Palestinian refugees are already in Lebanon.
Still, Salam vowed that "Lebanon will not close it borders. It will not turn back any refugees."
Lebanon is a country of just 4 million people, so the huge numbers of refugees are politically sensitive in a nation that endured its own civil war in the 1980s.
In Wednesday's statement, the Council also expressed "its growing concern at the marked increase of cross-border fire from the Syrian Arab Republic into Lebanon, which caused death and injury among the Lebanese population, as well as incursions, abductions, and arms trafficking across the Lebanese-Syrian border."
With Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, openly allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad and helping his troops fight the Syrian rebels, the Security Council called on "all Lebanese parties to recommit to Lebanon's policy of disassociation" and to "step back from any involvement in the Syrian crisis."
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says it anticipates that by the end of the year Lebanon will have to care for a million Syrians, 80,000 more Palestinian Syrian refugees, and 49,000 Lebanese returnees. The UNHCR said some 1.2 million Lebanese are affected by the refugee crisis, since Syrian refugees are now living in over 1,400 communities throughout Lebanon.
The U.N. estimates that a total of 1.7 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
The Security Council is expected to hold a meeting later this month to draw attention to the strain on Lebanon's resources due to the Syrian war.