BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Saturday the Syrian refugee crisis was taking a heavy toll on Lebanon’s society and economy, asking the international community for additional support.
Speaking at a security conference in Germany, Mikati also called for a cease-fire in Syria until warring parties at the international, regional and local levels reach a deal to resolve the nearly 3-year-old crisis.
“We are trying to stay away from the Syrian crisis but its humanitarian repercussions on the Lebanese situation have been immense. The number of refugees in Lebanon is at 1 million which has led to social problems including the rise of crime rates on Lebanese soil,” Mikati said.
“Last year, the birth rate was also very high among the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who lack the minimum required for a decent living or proper documentation. What awaits them is extremism which usually grows in a poor ... environment,” he added.
Officials in Lebanon have said that more than 1.3 million Syrians have fled into the country since the conflict in Syria began in March of 2011.
They have also warned that the presence of refugees, estimated now to be a third of Lebanon’s population, has impacted the country’s fragile economy and demographics.
Mikati, citing a study by the International Monetary Fund, said Lebanon’s national income had suffered indirect losses estimated at $7.5 billion. He also noted that the sectors which were most affected by the Syrian crisis were trade, transport of commodities and tourism, a trio Mikati described as the basis of Lebanon’s economy.
The caretaker prime minister also spoke about the crisis in Syria, saying the conflict beyond Lebanon’s borders was multifaceted and reflected the conflict of regional and international interests.
“The true solution should be a top-down approach and that has yet to happen because compromises have not yet covered all elements of the conflict,” Mikati said.
Mikati said lessons could be drawn from the Lebanese 1975-90 Civil War, noting that several conferences were held before the decisive talks in Saudi Arabia where a compromise between the warring sides was reached to end the conflict.
“The war in Lebanon did not end until we held the conference in the Saudi city of Taif under an Arab and international umbrella,” he said.
“What we should focus on in Syria is to stop the destruction and bloodshed through a cease-fire to reduce the suffering of the Syrian people and allow humanitarian organizations to do their job, particularly that 1,600 people were killed since the Geneva II [talks] were convened until now,” he said.
“The solution rests in an agreement between major states and then in a deal between regional powers which would then pave the way for a possible and effective dialogue between Syrians,” Mikati added.