BEIRUT - Lebanon should consider setting up transit centers to absorb the waves of refugees fleeing neighboring Syria and may have to establish formal refugee camps if the influx continues, a United Nations refugee official said.
The tiny and fragile Mediterranean state already hosts 260,000 refugees - equivalent to 6.5 percent of its population - and has sought to absorb them in homes and communities, fearing large camps of Sunni Muslim Syrians could inflame sectarian tensions still smouldering from its own 1975-1990 civil war.
But the accelerating exodus from Syria's bloodshed means that the number of Syrians seeking help in Lebanon is growing by 3,000 a day, leaving authorities and the UNHCR refugee agency struggling to provide for them.
"We have this very tiny country ... a quarter of the size of Switzerland, with a population of 4 million people, taking in 260,000 refugees," UNHCR representative in Lebanon Ninette Kelley told Reuters late on Friday.
"I think what we need to start doing is to prepare for an eventuality whereby we may not be able to find enough shelter and accommodation given the current level of demand."