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Beirut to host summit on Syrian refugees
Syrian refugees receive mattresses in Sidon.
Syrian refugees receive mattresses in Sidon.
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SIDON, Lebanon: Facing an influx of those fleeing the increasingly bitter conflict in its Syria, Beirut is set to host a major conference on Syrian refugees in Lebanon in January.

The meeting, dubbed the “First Conference on Syrian Refugees in Lebanon: Issues and Solutions,” was organized by three aid organizations: the Union of Aid Organizations for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, the International Islamic Charitable Commission of Kuwait, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth in Saudi Arabia.

It will be held under the patronage of Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who is set to speak at the event at Hamra’s Coral Suites. Also on the bill for the Jan. 18-20 conference is Sidon MP Bahia Hariri.

The conference’s tentative agenda and statement of purpose, obtained by The Daily Star, says organizers were prompted to launch the effort by a variety of factors, including poor socioeconomic and health conditions for refugees, the fact that the Higher Relief Commission has ceased providing aid, insufficient medical care and the state’s decision not to establish camps to shelter the refugees.

Some of these concerns are shared by international envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who recently warned that Lebanon may not be able to handle the additional refugees who could flee to the country if the conflict escalates, especially in Damascus.

“If you have a panic in Damascus and if you have 1 million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places – Lebanon and Jordan,” Brahimi said.

There are currently more than 170,000 Syrian refugees who have registered or are seeking to register with the U.N. refugee agency in Lebanon. Several thousand more Palestinians have fled to Lebanon; most are staying in the Palestinian refugee camps.

Kamel Kuzbar, who heads the Sidon branch of the Union of Aid Organizations for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and is helping to organize the conference, said that the Union has no further funds or material aid to distribute. Like Brahimi, he expressed concern over the steady stream of refugees, as fighting spreads and becomes fiercer.

Brahimi said refugees were occupying all possible shelters including buildings that are under construction, and urged the Lebanese government and the U.N. to provide shelter, calling this the “moral and humanitarian right” of the refugees.

Some refugees, especially in the area of Masharih al-Qaa, are staying in tents. Others are staying with family or friends, or are renting apartments. Among the topics to be discussed at the meeting are the increasing cost of housing, a general lack of safety and hygiene in some refuges, and the possibility of using prefabricated housing as temporary shelter.

Several parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, have objected to building camps out of fear that they could host Syrian rebels or serve as a base for smuggling weapons to them.

In addition to talks by Abu Faour and Hariri, Sheikh Ahmad al-Omari, the Secretary General of the Union of Aid Organizations for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon will also speak.

Although there is no confirmed list of attendees, local and international aid organizations and Lebanese figures involved in the refugee situation plan to take part.

In addition to shedding light on the issues Syrian refugees in the country face and discussing solutions, the conference also aims to educate those organizations who are participating in relief efforts about the obstacles refugees are dealing with and provide a chance for them to coordinate their efforts.

Sessions have been scheduled on a wide range of topics, including: the geographic distribution of refugees; the need for psychiatric care for women, children, the injured and recently disabled; the unique situation of Palestinian refugees from Syria; why some refugees are being denied entry to hospitals without upfront payment; the role of Arab and Islamic organizations in aid; refugee security; and the role of the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

On the final day, participants will visit a hospital that serves Syrian refugees and a refugee shelter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 31, 2012, on page 4.
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