BEIRUT: Arab League foreign ministers agreed to send a team to assess the status of those fleeing violence in war-ravaged Syria, after Lebanon appealed to Arab states to fund assistance for refugees Sunday.
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 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 Arab countries to help Lebanon cope.
“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,” the social affairs minister 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 budget of $180 million to pay for health, social and education services, including the current enrollment of 30,000 Syrian children in public schools.
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 increasing tensions between host communities who are already poor, given that most of the refugees live with families in their homes,” the Lebanese minister said.
Jordan and Turkey, which the UNHCR says host 176,600 and 153,000 refugees respectively, have set up camps for refugees.
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 UNHCR’s latest report.
UNHCR counted 69,300 refugees in Egypt, 69,000 in Iraq, 13,000 in Egypt and over 5,000 in North Africa.
The U.N. 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 said that the Cabinet’s plan, which is also designed to assist the more than 10,000 Palestinians who have fled 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 based on political affiliation, 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 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 the 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,” said Mansour, who chaired the session. He also said there is a growing need to equip refugee centers along with hospitals.
Also Sunday, the Arab League decided to send a delegation to visit Syria’s neighboring countries before a Jan. 30 donor conference in Kuwait.
A team will visit Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq to “assess the situation of Syrian refugees on the ground,” the Arab League said.