Lebanon and the United Nations are pleading for $2.48 billion from the international community to finance the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan for 2016 to better mitigate the effects of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
But funding remains the greatest challenge, especially since financial support for last year’s plan fell well short of the 2.14 billion the government requested.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam, the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag and Deputy U.N. Special Coordinator Philippe Lazzarini were on hand to launch the plan at the Grand Serail.
“We look at the size of financial aid that is being provided to Jordan and Turkey compared to what has been provided to Lebanon and ask: ‘What mistake has Lebanon and the Lebanese people committed in dealing with the Syrian refugee brothers?,” Salam said during the inauguration of the LCRP for 2016-17.
Much like the mission of LCRP last year, the government plans to invest substantial relief into repairing basic services while stimulating employment in the most destitute host communities, most of whom have shouldered the bulk of the crisis.
By doing so, the LCRP aims to encourage social cohesion by considering the needs of their own citizens as much as Syrian refugees. According to the plan, direct assistance will go to 300,000 of the most vulnerable Lebanese citizens in the country.
This has become a central priority since initial responses to the crisis actually facilitated tensions among Lebanese and Syrians by neglecting the needs of host communities.
The 2016 plan will also serve as a transitional phase into a more comprehensive strategy designed to respond to the crisis until 2020. Yet despite the measures, Kaag emphasized that the international community must not only support Lebanon financially, but also uphold their humanitarian responsibility by shouldering a greater number of refugees from Syria.
“Third-country resettlement remains a fraction of the responsibility that is borne regionally,” she said. “I encourage all those member states that are able, to expand or accelerate their efforts in this regard, and new partners to join this effort toward dignity and shared humanity.”
According to a report released by Amnesty International in 2015, countries not neighboring Syria had only pledged to resettle 4,500 persons from the country, a number that amounts to less than 0.04 percent of Syrians displaced from their homeland.
With little help provided, the Lebanese government took drastic measures by imposing new visa regulations on Syrian refugees at the break of this year while further suspending UNHCR from registering anymore in May. And while countries such as Canada have recently stepped up their efforts, resettlement quotas still remain significantly low compared to what neighboring countries have had to shoulder.
Nevertheless, the LCRP at least hopes to target women and children – who make up 80 percent of the refugees in Lebanon – while addressing the grievances that push young men toward violence.
“The plan targets over 1.2 million vulnerable people in Lebanese communities in addition to the Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR, and the Palestinian refugees from Syria,” Kaag said. “In doing so, it mitigates the worst effects of the economic downturn and of the increasing poverty and unemployment that have arisen as a result of the spill-over of the Syrian crisis.”
As of now, nearly four out of five Syrians are living in poverty while thousands of others are residing without any legal status in the country. Those registered with UNHCR are further barred from working to safeguard the employment sector for Lebanese nationals – a policy that many aid organizations have said is counterproductive. This is because it forces many Syrians to work in the black market where they receive a wage that is often half as much as their Lebanese counterparts.
Still, the crux of the problem remains the lack of assistance from the international community.
Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas, who was also present Thursday, said that Lebanon cannot be abandoned by the international community in their struggle to mitigate the crisis.
“The whole world is in this together and every partner needs to acknowledge their share of the responsibility,” he said.
“We have had to carry on an unprecedented burden that Lebanon cannot take and that we had no choice in creating.”
Salam agreed in his comments but further noted that there is no way that Syrian nationals will be permanently settled in Lebanon. And that the only way to ensure a more stable future in the region would be for the international community to cooperate to end the blood bath in Syria which has claimed over 250,000 lives.
“Humanitarian aid must be transparently delivered to us,” the prime minister said.
“In the International Support Group for Lebanon meeting in New York, I asked everyone to help Lebanon so that Lebanon could help itself,” Salam added.