More than 600,000 refugee children have fled Assad’s violence in Syria in search of safety in Lebanon. Forced to escape from the fighting, they face an uncertain future and a sometimes scary present – often living day-by-day wondering how to maintain food and shelter, losing their chance to go to school, vulnerable to exploitation. This is just one of the many consequences of the war in Syria.To alleviate the suffering, the war in Syria must end. That end will only come from a political solution that allows refugees to safely return to their homes and rebuild their lives free from violence and knowing they have a say in their political and social systems. Yet some in Lebanon continue to fuel the violence in Syria, which has led to more refugees coming to Lebanon, and attracted foreign fighters to the region who threaten Lebanese security.
No one who lives in Lebanon can fail to appreciate the difficulties that the refugee flow and other spillovers from the Syrian conflict have imposed on Lebanon and the Lebanese. No one who has studied Lebanon’s history, or its delicate balances, can fail to appreciate what is at stake. And no one who spends any time with the Lebanese can fail to be impressed with the basic decency and humanitarianism they display as they grapple with the issues posed by the refugees.
Lebanon and the Lebanese people shoulder a great and growing burden due to the strain of accepting more than 1 million people into this small country. This openness and generosity to people in need have been recognized and applauded internationally, most recently on July 14, when the United Nations’ Security Council passed a resolution that highlighted the significant and admirable efforts of Lebanon and other neighboring nations in helping the refugees. The Security Council also noted that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate without a political solution to the crisis in Syria, and urged donors to assist Lebanon and other countries as they deal with this crisis.
The United States has a track record in helping the Lebanese people find ways to meet their needs and those of the refugees. Since the start of the crisis, the United States has provided millions of dollars to international and non-governmental organizations and people in Lebanon to address those needs.
For example, the United States has partnered with local municipalities to address water resource needs that will benefit both refugees and host communities. Just last Friday, we signed a deal with the four regional water establishments to enhance Lebanon’s water resource management.
American support for the Lebanese public school system is a priority, especially as the schools deal with expanding enrollments. In recent years, we have worked to improve Lebanese public schools across the country by rehabilitating existing schools to provide a safe and welcoming environment for learning. As needs grow, so does our engagement. These programs and their results will have long-term benefits for all of Lebanon.
The United States and the international community are doing much to aid Lebanon deal with this crisis. Lebanon is not alone, but it certainly deserves more support, just as more is needed to reach the goals of achieving a political solution in Syria and helping people return there safely.
America has taken a lead ourselves, and encouraged others to join us. The United States will continue to work with international donors to find solutions. And we at the embassy will continue to help local communities, in ways large and small, while never losing sight of the primary need to end the conflict in Syria.
Lebanon’s leaders can also help. Only with a fully functioning presidency, Parliament and Cabinet will Lebanon be able to address effectively, with international support, the challenges it faces. This includes dealing with the spillover effects of the war in Syria.
I know it’s been hard for many Lebanese to keep their sense of empathy for the refugees, but we must work together to find viable solutions – solutions that address a multitude of needs, adhere to international and local agreements, and don’t involve Lebanese fighting in Syria; solutions that help all children have a childhood filled with hope and joy, not rockets and guns.
David Hale is the United States’ ambassador to Lebanon.