BEIRUT: The U.N. reiterated its support for the Lebanese government’s Syrian refugee plan Wednesday, as Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said he could not rule out the option of constructing refugee camps for the growing number of displaced Syrians escaping the war at home.
U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos met Wednesday with Prime Minister Najib Mikati to discuss the government’s refugee plan, after arriving in Beirut a day earlier.
The number of registered refugees, or those having expressed an interest in registering, Tuesday reached 132,015 in Lebanon, higher now than the displaced population in Turkey and around 4,000 less than that of Jordan.
“We are very grateful to the government for the work that they are doing, in partnership with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other U.N. partners,” Amos told reporters following her meeting with Mikati at the Grand Serail.
She stressed that “here at the U.N. we will continue to give all the support that we can,” to the Lebanese government,” and would also encourage the international community to do so.
The latest U.N. regional refugee response plan, most recently revised in September, which called for $488 million to cover refugee needs until December 2012, is currently 45 percent funded, Amos said.
Speaking after meeting with Amos, Mikati said that “Lebanon remains committed to the humanitarian duty toward the Syrians refugees until they go back to their country,” according to a statement from his office.
“Right from the start of the crisis in Syria, we announced adopting a self-dissociation [policy] toward Syria ... but we cannot dissociate ourselves from the humanitarian duty,” he said.
However, he stressed that the country needs international support to deal with the refugee situation.
For his part, Abu Faour, who spoke alongside Amos, said that the establishment of refugee camps – which has happened in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq – could not be ruled out.
“The option of setting up camps is not being discussed but has not been totally ruled out because we [do not know] how events will develop in Syria,” he said, according to Mikati’s office.
“If there is sharp rise in the number of Syrian refugees coming to Lebanon, the state should have an emergency plan in place on how to deal with the issue,” said Abu Faour, who attended the meeting between Amos and Mikati.
There has been strong opposition to the introduction of refugee camps in Lebanon, with the UNHCR consistently saying they should be a last resort, as other residential solutions more closely represent regular life, and they can often lead to an increase in domestic and sexual violence, among other reasons. Hezbollah has spoken out against them, saying that they could be used as bases from which to smuggle weapons or launch attacks against the Syrian army.
Currently, the majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living with host families, but shelter is one of the most pressing concerns, especially now that winter is coming, and the number of refugees entering Lebanon continues to increase.
Last week the U.N.’s refugee body met with the Social Affairs Ministry to seek authorization to turn abandoned public buildings into collective shelters for the displaced, around three quarters of whom are women and children.
Abou Faour said that Amos was briefed on the government’s plan to assist Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“We only need the financial help of the international community,” Abu Faour said, adding that relevant ministries were ready to implement the plan.
“Mikati asked Amos to help the Lebanese government in the implementation of its plan,” he added, saying that despite political differences over how Lebanon should best be dealing with the crisis in Syria, the country’s different factions were united in wanting to protect Syrian refugees.
In Mikati’s statement, the prime minister said that he would soon call for a meeting of international aid organizations so that a coordinated plan on how to assist Syrian refugees in Lebanon can be reached.
Amos thanked the Lebanese government for what it was doing to assist Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and said that she had met Wednesday morning with some displaced people.
“The experiences they described were extremely traumatic, including one woman whose husband was tortured and died and her mother was torched in her home.”