BEIRUT: Europe said it would allocate 70 million euros to helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon survive the winter months, even as the nation’s president decried a shortfall in funds to deal with the spiraling crisis at a meeting with donor states.
The contribution offered by the international community to help Lebanon cope with the influx of Syrian refugees to the country is not enough, President Michel Sleiman said Friday.
“The financial contribution is not enough and the participation in sharing the number of refugees is not enough,” Sleiman added in a meeting at Baabda Palace with the International Support Group for Lebanon to follow up on decisions taken at a meeting held in New York last month. “Shelters [for refugees] inside Syria were not established and the path of the Geneva [negotiations] seems to remain obstructed.”
Lebanon has been facing major challenges coping with over 794,000 refugees who have escaped violence in war-torn Syria.
The political impasse in the country has also been linked to the stalemate in Syria, where talks over a meeting in Geneva in November to discuss a political solution to the crisis have foundered amid recriminations by the government and opposition.
Lebanese officials have repeatedly said the international community is not doing enough to help it deal with the refugee influx, which has stretched the country’s social services and health care system to the limit.
After the meeting, the EU envoy to Lebanon said it would allocate $95 million for Syrian refugees in the country.
“These days, an additional amount of 70 million euros will be allocated by the EU humanitarian agency ECHO to help the poorest refugees through the winter,” Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst added after meeting with Sleiman.
Eichhorst said this EU contribution would cover all the needs identified and planned for the poorest Syrian refugees during the winter under the “winterization” program developed by humanitarian agencies operating in Lebanon.
The program includes assistance for five months – from November to March – for 90,000 families living at an altitude of 500 meters above sea level as well as in informal tented settlements, in addition to 10 percent of vulnerable Syrian families living below 500m.
It was not clear whether the funds were an additional pledge by the EU or part of the money already allocated to Lebanon through ECHO.
Discussions between Sleiman and EU ambassadors focused on “the general situation in Lebanon and the region, the impact of the conflict in Syria on Lebanon, as well as the partnership between the European Union and Lebanon.”
Sleiman also held a meeting with envoys of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., Russia, U.K., France and China, who were joined by U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly.
Sleiman told the ambassadors that the recent meeting in New York had been successful but that the decisions resulting from the international meeting still needed to be implemented.
“There is a consensus that the New York meeting was successful in both its form and content, and what is required now is to follow up on the important conclusions that were issued at the meeting and the strategy and programs that should be adopted to implement them, he said.
“These conclusions are a road map to what can be done,” he added.
A source who attended the meeting told The Daily Star that the purpose behind the gathering was to push for implementing the regional and internal measures proposed by the New York meeting, which the source said had not been treated as seriously as hoped.
The source added that the EU ambassadors who attended the meeting with Sleiman discussed with him government formation efforts and the issue of the funding of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, implicitly linking the refugee assistance issue with Lebanon’s fulfillment of its international obligations to the court and internal political dialogue.
The source said Sleiman stressed confidence-building measures among political rivals in the country, and Lebanon’s commitment to its international obligations.
The president also called for holding a new conference for donor countries and further meetings for the International Support Group for Lebanon to follow up on the New York meeting.
“This international commitment is not limited to supporting the displacement issue only, but to continue supporting Lebanon and compensating it for the damage it accrued due to the Syrian crisis,” Sleiman said.
The meeting in New York was attended by the heads of mission or delegation of the Arab League, China, the European Union, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. The U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon and representatives of the UNHCR and the World Bank were also present.
An international meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in September pledged $339 million in additional humanitarian aid in response to the Syrian crisis, including $74 million for Lebanon to support refugees.
The U.N. is assisting more 794,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon and there are hundreds of thousands more who remain uncounted.
A statement from Plumbly’s office said the International Support Group would continue to be a strong advocate for assistance for Lebanon.
“The impact of the Syrian crisis – including the huge burden imposed by the influx of refugees – becomes more acute by the day, underlining the need for strong and coordinated international support,” the statement said.
“Participants looked forward to ... engaging with a broader range of stakeholders on ways forward, including with regard to the possibility of a more-broad-based high-level meeting to rally support for Lebanon once work in the various support areas is further advanced,” the statement said.
According to Plumbly’s statement, a high-level Sept. 30 meeting organized by the UNHCR in Geneva had focused on “the need for greater burden-sharing, including resettlement.”
“UNHCR continue to encourage commitments additional to the $530 million already received for Lebanon this year,” the statement said.
Sleiman had proposed last month that Syrian refugees be placed in “safe zones” inside Syrian territory to ease the burden of the refugee crisis on Lebanon. The proposal came ahead of the U.N. meeting in Geneva that included neighboring countries, the United States and European states. – Additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab