Chaotic influx of refugees to Lebanon stirs fears

Thursday - 2/14/2013, 4:48pm EST

Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) -- For many Lebanese, the massive, chaotic influx of Syrians fleeing their country's civil war is evoking painful memories and real fear. They say the refugees pose far too much of a burden on this fragile nation still recovering from its own civil war -- nearly a quarter-century ago.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, more than 265,000 Syrians are now in Lebanon, a tiny country of 4.5 million with a dilapidated infrastructure which routinely suffers widespread shortages of electricity and water. There are more Syrian refugees in Lebanon than in any other country.

Unlike in Jordan and Turkey, where authorities quickly established border camps, the refugees here are scattered across the length of the country, straining services in health, education and housing and pushing up rent prices. That's causing friction with Lebanese, some of whom resent the Syrians' presence and blame them for everything from rising crime to traffic jams.

The issue is particularly sensitive because of Lebanon's long and complicated history with the tens of thousands of Palestinians who fled here with Israel's creation in 1948. Now numbering about 450,000, the overwhelmingly majority of Palestinians in Lebanon live in 12 refugee camps across the country.

Following the 1967 Mideast war, some militant Palestinian groups began using Lebanese territory to launch attacks against not only Israel, but occasionally against the Lebanese army -- actions that eventually helped ignite the country's 1975-1990 civil war.

Nowadays, gunmen fighting the Syrian regime cross relatively freely across Lebanon's porous borders in some areas, with Lebanese authorities largely unable to control the flow or keep tabs on the whereabouts of rebels and other Syrians pouring into the country.

Authorities say about 2,000 Syrian newcomers arrive every day, with the numbers expected to rise sharply if rebels enter the Syrian capital of Damascus, a 2
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