BEIRUT: Health Minister Wael Abu Faour slammed the international community Wednesday for letting down Lebanon and Syria over the refugee crisis and the civil war next door, as he announced a new project aimed at preventing strife between locals and more than 1 million Syrians now in the country.
“The international community has disappointed the Lebanese after it had disappointed the Syrians, politically and on humanitarian grounds,” Abu Faour said. He made the comments at a news conference launching the EU-funded “Conflict Reduction Through Improving Health Services for the Vulnerable Population in Lebanon” initiative.
“The project aims to reduce the existing conflict between Lebanese and Syrian refugees, which in part results from the competition over jobs, education, health and basic survival services,” Abu Faour explained.
He criticized the politicization of the refugee debate, saying, “the last thing we need in Lebanon is to transform the refugee issue into yet another factor of the political divisions.”
He stressed the need to act immediately, saying that the crisis had become a huge danger. “My advice is to reduce the [verbal] statements and boost the arrangements,” he said, raising questions about old policies enacted by the former Cabinet and never implemented.
Abu Faour also called for Lebanese workers to be supported by the government, giving them the advantage in terms of employment.
“Why doesn’t the Lebanese state stop the illegitimate competition by the Syrians?” the minister asked, expressing concern over possible strife between the two sides if the matters are not resolved.
Many Lebanese have felt ostracized by the windfall of cash that has been made available to support Syrian refugees. The new conflict reduction project is an attempt to improve the situation of citizens around the country by enhancing the standard of national health services over the next 18 months.
The initiative was launched in coordination with UNHCR, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, International Relief and Development, International Alert, and the Health Ministry.
“The effects of the Syrian crisis have been quite staggering and no more so than in Lebanon,” said Ninette Kelley, UNHCR’s representative to Lebanon.
“Refugees have great needs but so do hosting communities.”
Much of the money put forward for this project, as well as the multitude of projects for Syrian refugees, has come from the European Union.
Angela Eichhorst, head of the European Union delegation to Lebanon, said 20 million euros had been contributed by the EU to this initiative and urged Abu Faour to use the money responsibly by hiring the “best people possible.”
“We hope there will be an end to this crisis,” Eichhorst said. “Until then we will do everything we can.”