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Lebanon News

Abu Faour: Army can manage refugee camps

File - Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour speaks during an interview in Beirut, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said Monday the Lebanese Army had agreed to manage security at refugee camps for Syrians should such an option be approved by the government. Abu Faour said it was necessary to create refugee camps, noting that it would alleviate the pressure on Lebanese society on all levels.

The minister’s comments came as he spoke at a symposium hosted by the Maronite League on “The Security, Social and Economic Repercussions of Syrian Refugees.”

Abu Faour said that both the growing number of refugees in Lebanon and a weak government had hampered the country’s ability to properly deal with the high refugee influx. He also contended that although the Palestinian and Syrian refugee situation in Lebanon was a serious national matter, it was not being given sufficient priority.

Abu Faour also highlighted an agreement reached with Germany whereby the European country would host 5,000 Syrian refugees as part of a series of measures aimed at taking some of the burden of the refugee crisis off the current host countries.

An agreement has also been reached to set up reception centers for refugees along the Masnaa border and in the Bekaa Valley, the minister said. The centers will administratively and humanely assess whether new arrivals qualify for refugee status before they can enter the country.

But despite these latest steps, Abu Faour also expressed his disappointment with the regional and international community for failing to support Lebanon. The country, he said, has only received 23 percent of the aid it needs, most of which has gone to international organizations rather than the government.

He added that the Bekaa Valley needed the most help as it was no longer able to endure the growing refugee community.

According to the latest count by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now exceeds 625,000. The unofficial number is believed to be much higher.

Abu Faour said Lebanon had agreed to the establishment of a fiduciary fund aimed at providing more aid to Syrian refugees, but added he feared it would threaten Lebanon’s credibility.

He and U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly discussed last week the establishment of the fund that would be managed jointly by the Lebanese government and the World Bank with the purpose of serving both Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities.

The fund would also help Lebanese schools accommodate displaced Syrians as well as improve the health sector and other infrastructure.

UNHCR’s latest report noted for the second week running a slight decrease in the number of new arrivals in the Bekaa Valley. A total of 546 families arrived last week, local municipalities told the UNHCR.

But as the number of refugees in Lebanon rises overall and shelters are exhausted, the UNHCR in collaboration with the Social Affairs Ministry is continuing to work to identify suitable sites for formal tented settlements and more collective shelters, the report said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 23, 2013, on page 3.

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