BEIRUT: Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said Saturday Lebanon can no longer tolerate the burden of over a million Syrian refugees without sufficient international aid, slamming the international and Arab community for failing to assist.
Derbas made his remarks at the Rafik Hariri International Airport before boarding a plane to Amman where he and other Arab officials will meet for a one-day conference to discuss the plight of Syrian refugees and host communities.
“The Cabinet agreed [Friday] that Lebanon’s position at the conference would be as such: Lebanon surpassed its capabilities in light of an absence of real aid to support host communities,” Derbas told reporters at the airport.
“In Lebanon, I don’t think that the situation can go on the way it is. In the past, the policy was to neglect and ignore because they thought the number was a couple of thousand. But today, we have a couple of million and they could be here for years,” he said.
“We will not make demands at this conference; we are heading there to inform them of Lebanon’s position so they, the UNHCR, the United Nations and Arab and foreign countries can adapt,” the minister added.
With no end in sight to the conflict in Syria, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now stands at over one million registered with the UNHCR and is expected to increase.
Officials have said that the number went well above the one million mark.
Describing it as a “purely Arab matter,” Derbas said Lebanon should devise a strategy with neighboring countries including Arab and foreign ones to better address the crisis.
“This is like the Nakbeh. The Arab community then is obligated to hold several meetings and design a mechanism to deal with this very dangerous matter,” he said.
Derbas said Lebanon was the weakest and smallest Arab country and could no longer address such a crisis, which, he said, has inflicted damage on the Lebanese economy.
He also complained that the country has not yet received promised and needed financial aid, saying proposals by Lebanon to establish refugee camps on the border with Syria and in safe areas were not welcomed.
“The World Bank said the damage inflicted on the Lebanese economy in the past two years was estimated to be around $7.5 billion,” the minister said.
“Several meetings at the international level were held chaired by the World Bank to help Lebanon garner needed funds, estimated at $2.7 billion for the end of 2014, and we have not yet received anything,” he added.
Asked whether Lebanon would put forward once again a proposal to establish camps along its border with Syria, Derbas said: “We have proposed establishing refugee camps inside safe Syrian territory and reception centers on the border between Yabus and Lebanon’s Masnaa and between Dabousiyi and Arida but the international organizations were not responsive to such proposals under the pretext that these places are not safe.”
“But the range of mortar shells and fighter jets can reach anywhere and a few kilometers inside Lebanon or Syria would not make a difference,” he said.
“They are treating Lebanon as a warehouse ... but this warehouse also has limits,” Derbas noted, adding that the living conditions of both the refugees and host communities were no longer appropriate.