Refugees in Lebanon and the UK

25 July 2016
What was claimed

Lebanon, a country the size of Devon and Cornwall, shelters 1.5 million refugees compared to 150,000 in the UK.

Our verdict

Lebanon is the size of those counties combined, and the figures are in the right ballpark, although Lebanon’s refugee population is unusual in that many have been “refugees” for decades or from birth, which isn’t possible in the UK.

A tweet posted this morning says that Lebanon is the size of Devon and Cornwall combined, and that it shelters 1,500,000 refugees to the UK’s 150,000.  

The first part of this claim has done the rounds on social media before and is accurate: Lebanon is 10,400 km², while the combined area of the traditional counties Devon and Cornwall is 10,270 km².

The second part is trickier.

Lebanon hosts just over a million Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations.

This is in addition to around half a million other refugees, most of them Palestinians, who are registered with a separate UN agency. That figure is disputed, however, with recent research indicating that only around half that number are actually in the country.

It’s also complicated to work out the ‘refugee’ population of the UK. The Home Office told us that it doesn’t keep a running total.

The UN gives a figure of 123,000 refugees in the UK, plus 46,000 people with an asylum application being processed. Last year, it was 117,000 plus 36,000 pending applicationswhich may be the source of the claim that there are 150,000 refugees living here.

But as there’s no definitive number for refugees in the UK, there are other ways this could be calculated.

The UN gets its figure by counting the number of people who have been granted asylum in the past 10 years. People who were accepted as refugees more than 10 years ago don’t appear as ‘refugees’ in its statistics.

Refugees can apply to become British citizens after six years. It seems reasonable to stop describing people as refugees after 10 years, as the circumstances of people in the UK for a decade or longer will often be very different to those fleeing recent persecution.

For many of Lebanon’s refugees, there is no similar path to citizenship. Its large Palestinian refugee population is made up of people who fled Israel/Palestine after the war of 1948as well as subsequent conflicts, notably the Six Day Warand their descendants.

These Palestinian refugees generally can’t get Lebanese citizenship. They have “limited access to government services,” according to the UN, and “have to depend almost entirely on [the UN] for basic services”. They can’t own their own home and many still live in refugee camps.

So there are Palestinians who have lived in Lebanon for decades, or were in fact born there, who still qualify as refugees legally and live lifestyles similar in many respects to people who have fled persecution more recently.

That complicates the comparison with the UK, which has no equivalent population. Refugees who have arrived in the UK since World War Two will have eventually been absorbed as citizens.

None of this to deny Lebanon has a great number of refugees. Even allowing for some variation in the figures, it hosts more refugees per head than any other country: 1 for every 4 Lebanese citizens. The equivalent for the UK, based on the figures above, would at its maximum be 1 in 380.

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