BEIRUT: Europeans do not fully realize the effect the Syrian war is having on Lebanon and other neighboring countries, according to European Parliament Vice President Isabelle Durant, adding that the bloc must raise not only funds but also awareness to help Lebanon weather the crisis.
During a brief visit to Lebanon last week, Durant said she saw firsthand how the arrival of more than a million Syrian refugees was straining Lebanese resources and infrastructure. “Health care, schools, the environment, waste [management systems] and water supplies,” in Lebanon are struggling to provide for the unanticipated influx, the official said.
“I know very well how public management works. When I see the situation here and the means available, I know that this is an enormous challenge. Enormous.”
Lebanese municipalities, some with already thin budgets, have reallocated public resources to help accommodate the refugees. From increasing waste management costs to swelling numbers of students enrolled in local schools, the burden on host communities is growing.
While Durant said she was impressed by the warm welcome most refugees had received in Lebanon, she added that she could understand how Lebanese, particularly from disenfranchised communities, could feel “frustrated and forgotten” amid the international outpouring of aid for Syrians.
Durant emphasized the importance of working closely with the Lebanese host communities to better serve both populations: “What’s most important is to work for everyone, for comprehensive infrastructure projects that benefit the neediest populations, whether they are Lebanese or Syrian.”
She also acknowledged that Lebanon had and would continue to experience the far-reaching effects of the Syrian crisis, including “changes to the composition of Lebanese society.”
Still, European authorities remain largely oblivious to these consequences of the Syrian war, a conflict seen by the Western public as increasingly abstract, according to Durant.
“Of course members of the European Parliament can read the numbers and the reports, but I think that they don’t realize how sensitive the situation has become in Lebanon, particularly with all the existing political difficulties,” she said.
Durant said she would be raising all these issues at a plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean to be held in Jordan next weekend.
That Lebanon has been without a government for the past 10 months only exacerbates the situation, Durant said. The international community would be better able to serve Lebanon, she explained, if there were established representatives to deal with.
“If we [the EU] wanted to create a financial accord, we need a representative on the Lebanese side, not a [caretaker] minister who can only deal with day-to-day matters, one who can’t fully engage.”
While Durant did not directly link Lebanon’s lack of government with the deteriorating security situation, she said the formation of a Cabinet would increase stability in the country.
Europe is paying “close attention” to the rise of radical Islamist movements in Lebanon and throughout the region, Durant added.
Yet she lamented the fact that the European public seemed more concerned with the small number of Westerners fighting alongside the opposition in Syria than the serious regional effects of the crisis.
“Europeans need to better understand that the neighboring countries [of Syria] are facing a very difficult situation, not just financially but politically.”