BEIRUT: Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced his country will be accepting 1,000 Syrian refugees from Lebanon for resettlement as well as considering more aid for the growing refugee population that he says is in need of resources.
Bowen’s resettlement announcement came after a multiple-day visit to the country that included visits with Syrian and Palestinian refugees as well as government officials.
Bowen said his visit showed him that there was a pressing need for more resources to help the Syrian refugee population in the country that has grown vastly.
“I think it’s incumbent on all nations of the world to look at what more we can do, hence Australiais taking a thousand, an extra thousand affected by the Syrian crisis,” the minister said.
“There are many hundreds of thousands of people affected and a thousand is certainly scratching the surface, but it’s an initial contribution from us,” he said.
Australia is currently one of the largest supporters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees operations in the region to help Syrian refugees. It has contributed over $20 million in aid.
Bowen said that UNHCR is doing good work to help the refugees, but more aid is clearly needed due to the difficulty of the refugees’ situation.
“Certainly aid is reaching people, but that doesn’t mean the situation isn’t tough for them,” he said.
There are over 100,000 Syrian refugees who are registered or waiting to register with the aid organization, UNHCR reported. Local charities and activists say there are tens of thousands of more refugees in the country who have not registered through official channels.
The Syrian refugee population has grown rapidly over the course of the 19-monthlong conflict.
There are no formal camps to house refugees and most available housing has been filled in the east and northern areas near the border.
Bowen said the pervasive perception of the Syrian conflict being a lasting one, that could take years to resolve, had some refugees he spoke to reconsidering their living situation and looking to immigrate elsewhere.
“Some of the Syrian refugees I met yesterday said, look, the Syrian crisis is going to go on 15 years.” Bowen said. “Is 15 years in Lebanon sustainable? It’s going to be difficult.”
Australia is home to a large Lebanese population of between 200,000 and 400,000 people.
The country already resettles around 20,000 refugees in the country every year.
Bowen said he would be reporting on his trip to the Australian Cabinet, which could lead to more aid and assistance programs for refugees.
Australian officials were not in the country to weigh in on the current government crisis, Bowen said.
He said he was impressed by the ability of the society and government to hold onto stability after Friday’s bombing in Ashrafieh.
“I’ve been impressed with the response of the Lebanese society and the government; things seem to have been returning to some degree of normalcy,” he said.