The Lebanese government, dominated by Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group backed by the Syrian regime, initially balked at establishing camps for the refugees. It was eager to avoid fostering an image of a humanitarian crisis from the Syrian civil war — not to mention a repeat of the Palestinian experience.
Across the country and particularly in the impoverished northern city of Tripoli and eastern Bekaa region, many of the Syrians are staying in unfinished houses, construction sites, schools and sometimes even parking lots.
Arsal, an impoverished Sunni town of 40,000, has had more than a 30 percent population increase because of refugees.
Many Lebanese have accepted Syrian families into their homes. In Palestinian refugee camps, residents have built a camp within a refugee camp for their compatriots escaping the violence across the border.
Reading rooms, offices, hallways and even bathrooms have been partitioned with makeshift walls, boards and even blankets as families try to carve out space to cook, eat and sleep.
A report by Doctors Without Borders issued last week said Syrians who seek safety in Lebanon do not receive anywhere near adequate levels of humanitarian assistance and are living in extremely precarious conditions.
More than 50 percent of people surveyed by the organization are housed in substandard structures in inadequate collective shelters, farms, garages, unfinished buildings and old schools.
Mohammed Ghazaleh, 22, rejects the notion that Lebanese are xenophobic.
‘‘That is not a racist approach, that is just simple mathematical sense,’’ said the Lebanese mechanical engineer student studying in Austria. ‘‘Lebanon doesn’t have enough drains for rain water. Lebanon doesn’t have enough electricity for its own citizens. How can it possibly take half a million Syrians?’’
Fed up with the Lebanese complaints that the refugees were to blame for the country’s ills, including inflation, street harassment and rising crime, a group of activists from the Beirut-based Anti-Racism Movement created a video urging the Lebanese to take responsibility for their own shortcomings.
‘‘This morning on my way here, I was harassed by a man on the street. He had a Lebanese accent, he was not from Homs nor from Aleppo,’’ says a woman activist on camera, referring to two cities in Syria. ‘‘Stop whining about the refugees, nobody’s asking you to do anything for them,’’ says another.
‘‘The problem is not the refugees, the problem is us,’’ the video concludes.