BERUIT — Refugees are everywhere on the streets of downtown Beirut.
Women and children in filthy clothes beg for money on nearly every street corner. Countless young boys tote shoeshine kits, persistently following foreigners and wealthy Lebanese who pass by. "Min Sooriya" they say, meaning “from Syria.”
As if there was any doubt.
Refugees are a daily fact of life in Lebanon. They are middle class people with nowhere else to go. There is nothing they can do but wait.
The Lebanese understand this all too well; during the country's 15-year civil war many took refuge in Syria.
They were welcomed into the homes of the Syrians who are now refugees themselves. So they are accepting, even welcoming, to a degree. But the futility of the situation breeds an atmosphere of despair. Give a little money to one person and it does nothing. There are literally a million more in need. Any note of optimism in Lebanon is tempered by this reality.
The official number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon just topped one million, according to the United Nations, but most believe the real number is significantly higher.
The Lebanese government, itself only a semi-functioning institution, has been unable to secure its eastern border with Syria. As a result not only have refugees entered the country but weapons and drugs now flow in both directions, as well.
This facilitates a regional war economy that extends beyond Lebanon or Syria. Indeed, today it may be possible to drive straight through Syria from Beirut to Eastern Iraq without ever encountering border guards.
Officially, the Lebanese government stresses its friendly policy toward refugees, but it may be more accurate to say there is no policy at all, for no official Syrian refugee camps exist in Lebanon.
With approximately 455,000 Palestinian refugees in 12 camps already, officials are reluctant to lend any sense of permanence to another million plus refugees.
Today, most Syrians in Lebanon live in makeshift camps with aid administered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a range of Islamic relief agencies. Both bypass Lebanese authorities and do not cooperate to distribute aid. At night, UN officials and just-out-of-college Western aid-workers can be found partying in Beirut nightclubs.
Yet, an international aid arrangement provides subsistence to millions of refugees with impressive efficiency, even though it fails to effectively address the underlying problems worsening the refugee crisis.
The dual infrastructure through which international aid is being delivered misses an opportunity to provide badly needed local economic stimulation. Moreover, there is a critical need for education and mental health services.
An entire generation is growing up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Unless something is done now to provide an outlet and a future for the millions of children growing up without a home or education, the world will be dealing with the millions of angry, traumatized adults they inevitably will become.
The predominant narrative that Syria can be contained is already showing cracks. The World Food Program recently announced cuts to food deliveries due to a shortfall in funding.
A recent riot at Za'atari camp, the largest refugee camp in Jordan, and the international focal point of UNHCR's Syria response, resulted in the death of one refugee and injured 29 Jordanian police officers.
The region cannot sustain an endless war in Syria.
More drastic action is required that addresses the underlying issues. From an aid standpoint in particular, the status quo falls far short of what is necessary. If there is no will to act in a more effective way to end the fighting, then there is at the least an obligation to provide more than subsistence to those that have been so tragically affected.
Ben Homer is a graduate student in international affairs at the New School in New York. He is producing a documentary film focused on the Syrian refugee issue.