BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called Wednesday for international support to establish a safe haven inside Syria where refugees can take shelter as means to ease the burden off host countries such as Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the U.S. pledged $76 million for Lebanon to help the country cope with the overwhelming number of Syrian refugees which officials estimate to be over one million.
"The international community should seriously consider the idea [of creating] safe camps inside Syria,” Mikati said during an international donor conference in Kuwait intended to help the U.N. reach a $6.5 billion target aid for the Syrian crisis.
He said studies conducted between 2012 and 2014 showed that Lebanon’s GDP shrunk by $7.5 billion, while the cost on the treasury was estimated at $5.1 billion including $3.6 billion in expenses directly used to provide services for the Syrian refugees. The treasury revenues also dropped by $1.5 billion due to the decline in economic growth.
Mikati stressed that Lebanon was in dire need for greater assistance to help the country cope with the nearly million Syrian refugees.
Lebanon, overwhelmed by a surge of Syrian refugees fleeing the fighting in border towns and other Syrian areas, has refused to establish refugee camps for Syrians seeking shelter from the war that has killed more than 130,000 people and displaced millions.
On their part, U.S and Gulf states pledged $1 billion in Syrian aid. Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, promised $500 million in fresh assistance, the U.S. announced $380 million, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia pledged $60 million each.
Mikati also urged the Arab and international communities to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts.
“Don’t forget Lebanon. Keep Lebanon neutral. Preserve Lebanon,” he said.
Following the conference, Mikati held separate meetings with Kuwait's Emir, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry said upon his meeting with the caretaker PM that his country would help Lebanon with additional funds for the Syrian refugees.
“The United States will be providing an additional $76 million, which is the largest amount we have put in directly into Lebanon for the refugee challenge,” Kerry said, according to the U.S. department of state.
“In addition to that, we will continue to work very directly with the Lebanese armed forces and their ability to be able to stand up against the sectarian violence that is ripping apart Lebanon yet again,” he added.
Referring to Hezbollah which Washington designates as a terrorist organization, Kerry said the Lebanese government “needs to not provide an opportunity for legitimization of any terrorist organization or violence within Lebanon.”
“We know it's very difficult, nothing is easy there,” he added.