Lebanon to raise concerns over Syrian refugees with UN

UNHCR says 720,000 registered Syrian refugees are in Lebanon

Members of a  family carry their belongings as they move into the Salah al-Din neighbourhood in central Aleppo. Photograph: Reuters/Ammar Abdullah

Members of a family carry their belongings as they move into the Salah al-Din neighbourhood in central Aleppo. Photograph: Reuters/Ammar Abdullah

Thu, Sep 5, 2013, 01:00

Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman plans to raise the matter of the influx of Syrian refugees into his country during the opening session of the UN General Assembly this month. Mr Suleiman said there were now more than one million refugees living among four million Lebanese, and thousands more were crossing from Syria every day.

Roberta Russo of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said there were now 720,000 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon as well as tens of thousands who have not registered. Some 36,000 are living with Lebanese families. However, the agency had received only 27 per cent of the $1.7 billion (€1.28 billion) needed to provide basic assistance, education and health care.

Cut core relief
Consequently, next month the UNHCR would be compelled to cut core relief items to all but the most needy families . The agency was extremely worried about the prospect of a massive influx of refugees if the US and its allies carried out military strikes on Syria. “If we have an overwhelming number but do not have the funds, we do not know what we will do,” she said.

The UNHCR wants to establish reception centres near border crossings but the Lebanese don’t want camps to become permanent. They cite the precedent of the Palestinian camps founded in the country in 1948. The Palestinian refugee camps “are heavily armed and host radical Islamic movements”, said former Lebanese finance minister Georges Corm. “Some refugees belong to the armed opposition that mounts operations against the Syrian government, creating insecurity in Lebanon.

“Lebanon is more frightened by the political impact of the refugees rather than the economic impact.

“We do not know how many refugees will return home or how many will remain. No one knows what will happen to the Syrian state so Lebanon has a right to be frightened by their political impact. [Their presence] can only contribute to the traditional imbalances between Christians and Muslims and Sunnis and Shias which have produced two civil wars,” he said.

‘Poor foreign workers’
Mr Corm also said many Syrians were employed by Lebanese enterprises at lower salaries than Lebanese would accept. “Lebanese businessmen profit from this arrangement but Lebanese workers lose jobs. Therefore, this is good for business but not for workers. This situation is aggravating an old problem, the tendency to replace Lebanese workers with poor foreign workers – Syrians, Egyptians, Iraqis and Palestinians.

“I don’t think the government is handling the situation. The government has no real machinery to deal with any . . . catastrophe. There is the High Relief Committee which is doing its best, but it cannot cope.

“Lebanon has been promised money to provide for the refugees but the aid has never been delivered. Perhaps we have received 5-10 per cent of the $4 billion promised at a pledging conference in Kuwait.