Good Samaritans in Lebanon hosting more Syrian refugees than the entire US

There is a small village in the mountains of Lebanon that is hosting more Syrian refugees than all 50 U.S. states combined. Ketermaya is a quiet little place surrounded by patches of farmland. It isn’t a particularly wealthy town, but the residents here have taken in thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Syria.

“We have a history of welcoming refugees,” says Ali Tafesh, a local business owner. “In 2006 we did the same,” he adds, referring to the displacement of people caused by Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon that year.

Tafesh has done more than most. When Syrian families started to arrive in the town in the early days of the civil war, he arranged housing for them. When there were no more places left to stay he offered up his own land. “We built the first tent for two families. Then more people came and we built a second, and then it just kept growing,” he says.

Tafesh hosts 330 Syrians on his one-acre plot–a stony patch of land on the side of a hill, with olive trees scattered in between makeshift tents. At his own expense, he built a toilet and installed running water into the camp. He doesn’t charge the residents of this camp, but people like him are in the minority. Most refugees pay rent to landowners, even when their accommodation is little more than a wooden shack.

The U.S. has resettled 1,500 Syrian refugees since war broke out in 2011 (the small village of Ketermaya hit this number in July 2014), and aims for that number to reach 5,000 by the end of the year. President Barack Obama announced recently that he had ordered his administration to prepare for double that number in 2016. Aid agencies have said this is not enough: Oxfam America had been calling for the U.S. to resettle 70,000 Syrian refugees.

There are currently more than one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon (the actual number of refugees is thought to be much higher). If you include the estimated number of unregistered refugees, Syrians now account for more than a quarter of the country’s population.

There are no official refugee camps in Lebanon. Instead, refugees are scattered across the country and make their home on whatever land they can find.

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