Lebanon News

Formal camps the only way to solve refugee crisis: Abu Faour

Graphic released by the UNHCR tracking the Syrian refugees' population in Lebanon. (The Daily Star/ courtesy of UNHCR)

BEIRUT: Establishing camps is the only way to solve the refugee crisis in Lebanon, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said Monday, reiterating warnings that the influx of more refugees would have severe repercussions for the country.

“There is no solution to the continuous influx of refugees other than establishing refugee camps,” Abu Faour said during a conference about the economic repercussions of the Syrian refugee crisis.

“We’ve even decided on locations for such camps, but unfortunately, a number of political forces opposed this solution, arguing that [establishing camps] could destabilize the country’s security,” he said.

Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said over the weekend that the government and the United Nations had been mulling the possibility of establishing camps for refugees. The Cabinet is currently pressuring the international community to build camps in “safe zones” inside Syria or along the borders.

The United Nations has already conducted a technical survey of areas across Lebanon that could be amenable to setting up “modest formal settlements,” and presented its findings to the Social Affairs Ministry for approval. However, the government maintains that formal camps, if established, should not be entrenched within Lebanese communities.

Given the shortage of shelter options for refugees, UNHCR and its partners recommended the establishment of such settlements in “secure and appropriate” areas of Lebanon. From the standpoint of the U.N., with many people resorting to informal settlements that have inadequate protection and health safeguards, there is a need to move to more formal, tented settlements.

Abu Faour said that the Syrian refugee influx was “the biggest challenge confronting Lebanon,” since the outbreak of the Syria crisis.

“The Syrian refugee crisis is three years old; we have been talking about repercussions for a long time, but the relevant authorities did not respond to our warnings,” the minister said.

Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi echoed the official opinion that the camps should be established in safe areas inside Syria, not Lebanon.

“The Lebanese government will not accept establishing camps inside its territories, but instead in Syrian areas along the Syrian-Lebanese border,” Azzi said after holding talks with UNHCR’s representative in Lebanon Ninette Kelly.

Azzi said that security inside Syria could be ensured in designated areas through a “political agreement between the Syrian regime and the opposition under Arab and international monitoring, similar to the cease-fire agreement in Homs.”

Separately, a graphic released by the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees visualized the growing number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon since the beginning of the Syrian crisis some three years ago.

The graphic tracks the yearly growth of the number of refugees, placing red dots on the map to indicate population centers.

Syrian refugees, who now exceed a million, are mostly concentrated in border areas, in both north and east Lebanon, the graphic shows.

The number of refugees has increased from 25,411 refugees in June 2012, to 1,044,989 refugees in April 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 13, 2014, on page 4.




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