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While the entire country is affected by the crisis, rural areas in the north and in the Bekaa Valley have been especially impacted; their economies once depended on trade with Syria. Since the Lebanese government closed the borders with Syria, trade ceased and incomes plummeted.

Despite this bleak picture, the United Nations Development Program recently noted the presence of refugees has had some positive effect on the economy. Some businesses are benefiting from the availability of cheap Syrian labor, and landlords are gaining income from tenants. The beneficiaries, however, are a few better-off Lebanese in areas where refugees are concentrated.

For the rest, it is a very different story.

At the dispensary in Naba’a, which is run by a consortium of women religious, the endemic poverty among the Lebanese is self-evident.

“There is an overwhelming demand for help from the Lebanese,” says Nathalie Antonios, a social worker at the dispensary. “We have to reject a lot of cases of needy people because our capacity is limited.”

The food assistance program began a year ago and helps 70 families weekly.

As lunchtime approaches, dozens of families start gathering around a glass door at the back of the hall. They each carry a number and wait for their turn to be served a portion of chickpeas and fava beans and a pack of pita bread.

After they recite a prayer, food is distributed. An anonymous Lebanese family provides the food every week.

Waiting in line are elderly people who have nobody to support them, disabled individuals who need expensive medication and many unskilled laborers who have lost their jobs. To get by, many try to divide the portion they receive to make it last over several days. Rose says without this weekly meal, her family would go hungry.

“Our situation has been very difficult,” she sighs. In addition to Rebecca, Rose has a 4-year-old son, Ralph. “My husband paints walls. He keeps distributing business cards to find work,” she says. “Nobody is calling him; too many foreigners.”

The religious sisters who run the dispensary speak of parents pulling their children out of schools, people looking for food in garbage bins, and families eating uncooked food because they cannot afford to pay gas bills.

Social workers say these growing economic difficulties are causing more and more problems — including domestic violence, drug abuse and developmental difficulties among children.

With the government not regulating the employment of Syrian refugees, Lebanese workers, skilled and unskilled, find themselves vulnerable. Many cannot compete with desperate Syrians willing to accept low wages to survive.

On the other hand, Syrian refugees see themselves as victims, exploited by greedy employers and landlords.

“Everybody takes advantage of us here,” says Anjood Hayat, a 42-year-old mother of four who lost her home in the battles over the western Syrian city of Homs. She has been living in Burj al Barajneh, a poor neighborhood south of Beirut. “We have nobody to turn to.”

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