Lebanon News

State relief body seeks to integrate Islamic aid

Bashir faces expanding refugee numbers.

BEIRUT: The Higher Relief Committee is seeking to integrate the aid provided by Islamic and Gulf countries into its work to ensure that relief is directed solely toward displaced Syrians.

“The [Islamic charities] are now coordinating with me in order to make a perfect distribution of food and health care,” HRC head Ibrahim Bashir told The Daily Star.

Prior to the coordination, Bashir said, money and aid from the Islamic countries was often misdirected, going to Syrians who were already working in Lebanon before the Syrian uprising, or those who were already receiving aid.

“Syrian families who are living inside of Tripoli, for example – they get many health kits from the NGOs. And they are selling them. They are selling the food kits to merchants inside Tripoli,” he said.

Bashir said he has also held meetings with ambassadors from Gulf countries that provide financial aid to Islamic charities in an attempt to persuade them to channel that money directly to the HRC instead.

“I am trying with the ambassadors, the Arab ambassadors, especially Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Kuwait, [to tell them] that in order to help the Syrians, they must give the donations to us, not to the Islamic groups,” he said. “Because Islamic groups may buy weapons, ammunition, anything – and you see what happened in Tripoli during the last week,” he commented, referring to violence in the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods that has claimed 11 lives.

He said he had told the ambassadors during recent meetings that while their work was appreciated by the Lebanese government, “if they want to help the Syrian displaced, give donations via the embassy, to the HRC formally and we can give to all the Syrians in coordination with their embassy.”

Ambassadors have given their initial assent to the plan and the new arrangementshould come into effect in the next couple of weeks, Bashir said.

The HRC has so far spent $2 million providing food, shelter, and emergency health care to Syrians who have fled the violence in their home country.

It counts around 9,000 people as officially registered displaced, mainly in the north and Akkar, all of whom, Bashir said, entered the country through illegal border crossings.

It also provides aid to thousands more unregistered Syrians around Lebanon who arrived legally but do not have employment.

Other NGOs, in particular the coalition of Islamic charities, say numbers of the displaced are much higher.

“The difference between us and the NGOs and the UNHCR is that they want to register all the Syrians,” including those who have entered legally and are defined by the HRC as immigrants, in a bid to receive more in the way of donations, Bashir said.

The HRC is now working to register those Syrians classified by the HRC as immigrants, who number between 25,000 and 28,000, Bashir said, in order to assess the needs of those who are unemployed, or discover whether they have found jobs.

“If they find a job, we can’t say they are displaced, but even if they don’t find a job, we can help them as the displaced, but for a short period.”

Though he said the work of the Islamic charities provided significant assistance to the HRC in aiding Syrian refugees, he criticized the UNHCR, accusing it of doing little work on the ground.

“In five months [they have] distributed once,” he said. “They always declare that they are distributing food to all the displaced in Lebanon, but this is not true.”

The announcement by the HRC in March that aid to Syrians would be cut off if funding from the government was not forthcoming was a maneuver to force NGOs and the UNHCR to step up their aid efforts, Bashir said.

“I did this as a maneuver, because the Islamic coalition and the UNHCR didn’t help,” Bashir noted. “They take donations from many countries, and they didn’t give any to the Syrians. So it was a maneuver to make them work and coordinate with me. It worked very well.”

While Bashir said the government provides the HRC with all necessary financial aid, he said he would require much more money for bigger and more long-term projects, such as creating prefabricated houses as shelter for Syrian refugees. Aid charities have warned that refugees will face housing shortages.

“In my meeting with the Saudi [Arabian] ambassador I asked him to provide us with prefabricated houses,” Bashir said. To do this “we need a lot more money. I could not do this on the budget from the government.”

Bashir said houses would be erected in Akkar and the north “in such a way not to make problems for the Lebanese.” According to Bashir it is a question of putting10 refugeepre-fab houses in a village of 2,000 or more.

He added “We have many living in Shiite villages,” he said. “It is no problem, because they are dealing with them as human beings. It will not cause problems.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 19, 2012, on page 4.

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