BEIRUT: Lebanese officials sounded the alarm over the situation of Syrian refugees in the country Sunday, appealing to Arab states to fund the government’s plan to meet the rising need for assistance.
Describing the rapid increase in the number of refugees in Lebanon as a “dangerous humanitarian situation,” Lebanese ministers urged the Arab League to support the government’s comprehensive plan to address the massive Syrian presence in the country.
Speaking to Arab League officials during an extraordinary session in Cairo, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour described the current situation of refugees as “worrisome,” asking Arabs to help Lebanon cope with the Syrian crisis.
“The situation has become worrisome and stressful on a large scale especially as the government’s plan was designed based on the presence of 200,000 refugees while the number, I think, has surpassed 200,000,” Abu Faour told the regional organization during a session called for by Lebanon to discuss the situation of Syrian refugees.
He added that Lebanon’s plan involves an annual $180 million budget to meet health, social and education services, especially the current enrolment of 30,000 Syrian children in public schools at its own expense.
Abu Faour also said that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees expects the number of refugees in Lebanon to reach 425,000 by June of this year.
"The numbers are expected to rise, throwing a heavy burden on the Lebanese state in terms of economic pressure ... and rising tensions between host communities who are already poor, given that most of the refugees live with families in their homes,” the Lebanese minister said, in contrast to Jordan and Turkey who have set up camps for the Syrians.
The number of those fleeing violence in Syria to neighboring countries and North Africa has jumped more than 100,000 in the past month to over 600,000 according to the latest report on refugees, from the UNHCR.
In Lebanon, nearly 200,000 have so far registered while more than 153,000 in Turkey, 69,300 in Egypt, 69,000 in Iraq, 13,000 in Egypt and over 5,000 in North Africa.
The UN has said it expects the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries to reach 1.1 million by next June if the war continues.
Abu Faour also said that the Cabinet’s plan, which is also designed to assist the 10,000 Palestinians who escaped bombardment on their camp in Syria, includes $183 million for food, shelter and aid to international organizations working with the refugees who he said are scattered in more than 700 locations and municipalities.
Fending off allegations that Lebanon discriminates against refugees, Abu Faour affirmed that his country is committed to “relief, shelter, and the protection of those who have come to Lebanon to escape the situation in Syria.”
“I stress on the word ‘protect’ to avoid all ambiguities or other issues that have been said about Lebanon in the past [with regards to its treatment to refugees],” said Abu Faour.
Abu Faour appealed to Arab states to help Lebanon meet the demands of the refugees, echoing the words of Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour during the extraordinary session.
“Lebanon has a plan and hopes the Arab brethren who have always supported Lebanon will stand by it again in the presence of this crisis ... Lebanon will not abandon or run away from the refugees but Lebanon needs those who can help it overcome the Syrian crisis,” Abu Faour said.
Mansour, who said the number of refugees created a “dangerous humanitarian situation,” spoke about Lebanon’s patchy infrastructure and the country’s inability to cope with health demands of the refugees.
“There is an increasing difficulty in hospitals to cover for incurable illnesses and urgent cases as well as a lack of readiness in hospitals and medical centers in terms of infrastructure,” Mansour, who chaired the session, said.
He also said that there is also a growing need to equip and prepare refugee centers along with hospitals.