BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Wednesday that Lebanon could no longer accommodate an influx of Syrian refugees unaided, warning that the number of Syrians in the country has exceeded one million.
“Lebanon is suffering the consequences of the Syrian crisis as it receives thousands of Syrian refugees per day,” Sleiman told Arab ambassadors after arriving in Senegal’s capital on the first leg of his trip to West Africa.
Sleiman said Lebanon lacked the “physical, human or geographical capabilities to provide the appropriate assistance [to Syrian refugees].”
According to Sleiman, the number of Syrians in Lebanon is now equal to a quarter of the country’s population.
“The [total] number has exceeded 1 million and, consequently, [Lebanon] cannot absorb them,” Sleiman said, adding that his government needed the international community’s help to manage the refugees and the challenges that come with hosting them.
Separately, Prime Minister Najib Mikati also warned that the country had been overwhelmed by the sheer number arriving and in need of shelter.
“We are coming to a very critical point,” Mikati told Reuters in an interview Wednesday.
“We need help. Lebanon is bearing the burden of the events in Syria,” he said. “We ask Arab countries to look supportively and sympathetically at Lebanon, because Lebanon needs these countries right now.”
The refugee issue also prompted a high-level meeting in Beirut, where government officials and representatives of at least 80 NGOs held a meeting at the Grand Serail to discuss the pressing challenges facing Syrian refugees in the country.
“The goal of this meeting is to agree on a plan between the NGOs, the United Nations and the government so that every ministry can voice its needs to continue with providing the help to the refugees,” an official who took part in the meeting told The Daily Star.
“If things don’t radically change in Syria, we will have more than 1 million Syrian refugees registered by December,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that the number did not include Syrian workers in the country and those displaced refugees that had not registered.
The official said that the crisis posed a “larger danger” to the state than the financial fallout of endorsing a salary increase for civil servants and teachers, or the political wrangling over the parliamentary election law. According to the official, the government has only received $87 million from donors: “We had asked for $180 million to cover all the needs of all ministries working with refugees, but we only got half of it.”
“Six percent of the amount received was given to UNRWA, the remaining $71 million was distributed among the U.N. sponsored NGOs ... Nothing was left for the government,” the official added.
Meanwhile, the president expressed hope that democracy can prevail in Arab countries, which he said “are experiencing a difficult time,” adding that Lebanon yearns for democracy.
Sleiman, accompanied by his wife, arrived in Dakar Tuesday night at the head of a 60-member delegation. Well-wishers held posters of Sleiman and Senegalese President Macky Sall as they welcomed the visiting Lebanese delegation into Senegal’s largest city. Sleiman’s trip will take him to Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast after concluding his visit in Dakar.