Lebanon News

Sleiman vows open borders as donors pledge $1.5 bln for refugees

Suleiman addresses the opening ceremony of the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait City. AFP PHOTO/STR

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman pledged Wednesday that Lebanon’s borders would remain open to refugees as a donor conference in Kuwait exceeded the United Nations’ call for $1.5 billion to aid war-ravaged Syrians.

Addressing representatives from more than 60 countries, Sleiman called for a speedy solution to the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon.

“Lebanon has sought in the past months to provide assistance to the Syrian refugees despite its limited capabilities. However, the country needs help in hosting the refugees,” Sleiman said.

The president said that although the influx is expected to increase, “the border will remain open to refugees.”

He also urged Arab countries to help in hosting refugees because Lebanon is not able to shoulder the burden alone.

“We ask Arab countries to share the hosting of refugees, not because we want them deported, but after we get the consent of refugees themselves and the Arab countries,” Sleiman said.

Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia pledged $300 million each to help the refugees in the region, expected to number 1 million in mid-2013. Lebanon has almost 160,000 refugees officially registered with the United Nations, while another 70,000 people await processing.

Sleiman said that out of Beirut’s $370 million comprehensive plan for refugee aid, $180 million would be allocated to Lebanese state institutions, while $190 million would be distributed among international agencies.

The president held separate meetings with the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Gotiris.

Ban made an impassioned appeal for an end to the fighting “in the name of humanity,” calling on all sides, “and particularly the Syrian government” to halt attacks in the 22-month-old civil war that the U.N. says has claimed more than 60,000 lives.

He listed a “cascading catalog of horrors” facing Syrians, including shortages of food and medicine and abuses such as “sexual violence and arbitrary arrests and detention.” Half of public hospitals have been damaged, he added.

“The use of heavy weapons in residential areas has destroyed whole communities and neighborhoods,” Ban told delegates.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whose country is hosting nearly half of the 700,000 refugees, said bluntly that “we have reached the end of the line. We have exhausted our resources.”

Gulf nongovernment groups and charities have pledged $184 million, while the European Union and United States promised a total of nearly $300 million. Iran, a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, said the blame for the humanitarian crisis lay with “mercenary” rebel fighters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 31, 2013, on page 1.




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