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Safadi: Lebanon needs donations not loans to ease refugee crisis

  • Caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi. (The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: Lebanon needs donations, not loans, to cope with the Syrian refugee crisis in the country, caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi said over the weekend. “Lebanon has not caused what is happening in Syria yet it is suffering the burdens of the incidents going on there,” Safadi said during a conference in Washington organized to discuss the repercussions of the crisis in Lebanon.

“What is happening in Syria is not Lebanon’s problem, so we cannot be asked to take loans to secure the needs of the refugees,” he said.

“We will never accept making such a move.”

“Lebanon has always been committed to international conventions and it has the right to ask the international community to support it and offer the country donations so that the state will be able to secure the needs of the Lebanese first and the refugees second.”

During the conference, Safadi submitted a four-point economic road map for Lebanon to help ease the repercussions of the Syrian conflict on the country.

He said the plan was prepared by Lebanon in cooperation with the World Bank.

Safadi said the plan consisted of financing pending projects in the county as soon as possible and preparing projects for medium-sized enterprises which would be funded from a multiple-donors fund for refugees.

The plan would also establish sustainable development projects that would work for infrastructure reforms and private sector investment, as well as promote private-sector participation in the Lebanese market, including in the provision of services such as energy, electricity, water and transport.

The conference was attended by representatives of the United States, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Germany, Italy, China, Holland and Sweden.

Heads of the Kuwaiti Fund, Islamic Development Bank, OPEC Organization Fund, the European Investment Bank and the International Monetary Fund, were also in attendance.

Lebanon has been facing major challenges in dealing with the rising number of Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their country.

There are more than 789,000 official Syrian refugees in the country according to U.N. figures, but Lebanese officials put the number closer to 1.3 million. Many Syrian refugees present in Lebanon have not registered with the U.N.

An international meeting last month at the U.N. General Assembly in New York saw an additional $339 million pledged in humanitarian aid aimed at responding to the Syrian crisis. It included $74 million for Lebanon to support refugees.

The Lebanese participants of the meeting released a statement after emphasizing that the number of Syrian refugees in the country would amount to a quarter of the population by the end of the year.

It added that “the widening fiscal deficit will increase due to the mounting governmental expenses and the decrease in [government] revenues.”

Further, the statement warned, the extra competition in the labor market would push up the number of poor Lebanese and the unemployment rate by next year.

Meanwhile, a statement by the U.S. Embassy sent to The Daily Star said the Western power was encouraging Lebanon and the World Bank to explore whether additional mechanisms could be created for donors to provide assistance.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 14, 2013, on page 4.
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