BEIRUT: The Lebanese government, UNHCR and its partners Monday asked the international community for $1.89 billion in funds, part of the U.N.’s largest ever recorded appeal, to finance next year’s Syria refugee response plan.
The amount represents Lebanon’s portion of the $6.5 billion regional total being requested, which aims to support host countries Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt, as well as those internally displaced within Syria.
By the end of 2014, the UNHCR predicts that there will be 4.1 million Syrian refugees in the Middle East. There are currently a further 6.8 million internally displaced people in Syria.
“When the Syrian crisis began, Lebanon adopted a principle that would distance itself from the conflict,” caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said, addressing a congregation of more than 60 humanitarian agencies and over 70 donor countries at the Grand Serail. “But while Lebanon managed to do this politically, it was unable to adopt that principle from the humanitarian perspective.”
Describing Lebanon as a model humanitarian nation for maintaining an open-door policy despite its overwhelming refugee population, Mikati told donor countries in particular that he hoped “all of you will follow this example and lend a helping hand.”
The government is requesting $245 million of the funds, of which $165 million will be allocated for health, education, protection and social cohesion activities, and another $80 million for food security initiatives.
“The aim of this aid is primarily to provide social assistance and to respond to the most urgent humanitarian needs related to refugees and host communities,” Mikati said.
“The aim ... is to secure stability in the communities that include refugees on the one hand, and to encourage cohesion between host communities and refugees on the other, to prevent frustration and resentment, especially as refugee numbers continue to rise.”
The focus on community strengthening and sustainability programs distinguishes the new plan from previous ones. The new plan factors in the humanitarian needs for a projected 1.5 million Syrian refugees, 100,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria, 50,000 Lebanese returnees from Syria and 1.5 million affected Lebanese living in host communities.
Lebanon currently hosts 36 percent of the displaced Syrians in the region. The refugees reside in 1,588 locations across the country.
“In this largest and most widespread humanitarian crisis, Lebanon has demonstrated unfaltering solidarity and hospitality toward people who have been forced to flee their homes,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a pre-recorded video address.
“The international community must act urgently to support Lebanon, its government and its people. This is really an alarming time and help is needed right now.”
The plan for Lebanon was developed collaboratively by the government, 11 U.N. agencies, 54 national and international non-governmental organization partners as well as numerous refugees and municipalities.
UNHCR Deputy Head in Lebanon Jean Paul Cavalieri said the new plan would target the most vulnerable refugees, as well as attend to the specific needs of women and children. It will also focus on more effective ways to provide aid, such as distributing cash assistance with ATM cards.
Areas with both high concentrations of poor Lebanese and refugees will be given precedence.
Last year’s response plan, just 51 percent funded, was encumbered by the pace and scale of the Syrian displacement to Lebanon, which grew exponentially in a year’s time from under 150,000 registered refugees in January 2013 to over 840,000 today, an increase of over 500 percent.
The experience has informed the design of the current plan, explained UNHCR spokesperson Dana Sleiman, using education as an example.
“We know we have 300,000 school-aged children and of those we were able to register 100,000, including in afternoon shift programs. But we still have 200,000 out of school, so the focus next year will be to try and invest more in nonformal education programs, and build the capacity of national NGOs,” she said.
“We are planning to move toward more sustainable projects, community support and development projects that help strengthen infrastructure in every sector, including health and education.”
To better communicate with refugees and address their needs, the agency is steadily building up a network of refugee volunteers who will relay community concerns to the U.N. The agency already has 1,000 and aims to recruit an extra 3,000 next year.
Doha Qabalan is one such volunteer working in the north Lebanon district of Akkar. “Meeting the needs of Syrian families will spare them from having to deal with several social problems, such as child labor,” she said, addressing the conference.
“We don’t want to stay refugees; it’s time to end this war and the destruction. The international community should wake up and realize that it is dealing with the most severe human crisis in the 21st century.”