By Al Pessin
Syria’s main border crossing with Lebanon was quiet Friday, the day after an estimated 20,000 Syrians crossed to flee the increasing fighting. The conflict in Syria is having a growing impact on its neighbor.
Lebanese officials on the border were prepared for another busy day. It was more of a trickle than a flood, however, and none of the Syrians coming across into Lebanon described themselves as refugees. On a Friday at the start of Ramadan, they might have been coming to visit family, as they claimed.
Many of the refugees who came over on Thursday were believed to be supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from Damascus and its suburbs, like a driver who came on Friday, saying he had brought some people for a two-day visit.
“No one better will come after Assad. It’s not possible. There is no one better than him. 85 percent of the people are with him and 15 percent are getting paid to be against him,” said Ibrahim Ibrahim
Volunteers from the International Committee of the Red Cross were ready to help, but were not needed.
A local Muslim relief organization also swung into action, finding space for refugees in schools and homes. But much of the space was not used. Most of Thursday’s refugees were well off and could afford to rent apartments or hotel rooms.
Still, Ali Abdul Khalek of Muslims Without Borders is concerned that more, and poorer, refugees could come if the trouble in Syria continues.
“Lebanon can’t absorb a large number of refugees. The population of Damascus is equal to the population of all of Lebanon. Lebanon can’t do this by itself without international help,” said Khalek.
Along the row of shops near the border, the Syrian crisis is having a different impact. Business at Ahmed Al-Ajami’s family electronics store is down 70 percent because fewer Syrian tourists are coming by.
“Business was very good. The store was bustling. Now, there is nothing since the beginning of the war in Syria. The last month-and-a-half it is nothing at all,” said Lebanese merchant Al-Ajami.
On this Friday, the few customers he had were Lebanese, and this family didn’t find what they were looking for.
The fighting continued Friday in Syria, and Lebanon was braced for the continuing human, economic and political fallout from the unrest in its much larger neighbor.