BEIRUT: An Arab League delegation visiting Lebanon said Sunday that Syrian refugees in the country were in a dire situation, voicing hope that a donor conference this week would raise the funds needed to improve their conditions.
“What we saw is a tragedy in the full sense of the term, particularly in terms of health conditions and shelter for Syrian refugees,” said Faeqa Saleh, the head of the delegation.
“Our duty is to raise our voice in the donor state conference so that we can provide what we can to help, particularly that Lebanon is heavily burdened in providing assistance,” he said.
Saleh explained that unlike in Jordan, Syrian refugees in Lebanon were scattered across the country.
Addressing a joint news conference with Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, Saleh expressed her optimism that the financial aid requested would be provided during the conference.
The delegation will present a report of its findings to a donor conference which will convene in Kuwait Wednesday to raise funds for Syrian refugees.
Abu Faour said that Lebanon would not close its borders in the face of refugees, but that Arab states and the international community should help Lebanon with relief efforts. The minister suggested that Lebanon had failed to convey the true image of the refugees’ suffering due to differences between political groups.
“One of the conclusions drawn by the delegation ... is that some Arab states were better than Lebanon in terms of ... clarifying the suffering ... to garner assistance,” he said.
Over 200,000 Syrian and Palestinians from Syria are currently in Lebanon. The government has set up a plan to address the humanitarian crisis which will cost $180 million. United Nations agencies in Lebanon need another $190 million to provide additional assistance for refugees.
Members of the delegation visited Syrian refugees in the Bekaa towns of Barr Elias, Saadnayel and Dalhamiye. They also met Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil.
Separately, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai urged Syrian refugees to be grateful to Lebanon for providing them with aid.
“I appeal to our brothers, the refugees from Syria ... to be grateful to the Lebanese state, its people and institutions ... through refraining from any act that endangers the social fabric ... and security.”
Rai’s remarks came during a Mass at Bkirki in support of Catholic charity Caritas Lebanon, and proclaimed Sunday a day to show solidarity with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“In implementation of [the Bible’s] teachings, the churches of Lebanon and Caritas Lebanon launch today a day of solidarity with our brothers, the Syrian refugees,” he said, adding that supporting refugees is a religious and human obligation.
Rai called for donations to be collected in schools, monasteries and institutions to give to Syrian refugees through Caritas.
He also urged the state to count Syrian refugees, control borders and prevent arms smuggling.
Rai said the state should cooperate with the United Nations and relevant countries to ensure the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon does not exceed capacity by proposing that refugees be spread across other Arab countries and in safe areas in Syria.
He also called for an end to the increasing violence in Syria through peaceful negotiations and urged states backing and opposing President Bashar Assad to halt their military and financial support to the warring factions.
“We appeal to the officials of the states which are fighting in Syria through providing funds and weapons whether to the regime or the opposition – which has become obvious – to stop this bad act of incitement,” Rai said.
The patriarch also called on Lebanon’s political rivals not to wager on the developments in Syria, saying this was bringing life to a standstill.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon had reached a dangerous point given the government’s limited capabilities, stressing that the need for aid from the international community has become urgent.
“The situation has reached dangerous levels that Lebanon cannot handle alone,” Mikati said.
His remarks came over the weekend during a roundtable discussion about changes in the Middle East on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Mikati said the international community’s support for Lebanon was necessary and urgent, adding that Lebanon was counting on the Kuwait conference in order to get the support it needs.
For his part, Syria’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, said Syrian refugees in Lebanon should return to their country where many areas remain free from violence.
“All Syrians in this dear country [Lebanon] and other countries should cooperate with their embassies and government to return home,” Ali said over the weekend after meeting Speaker Nabih Berri.
“The refugees returning to Syria realize that their country is the safest place for them,” he added.