With rising numbers of Syrian refugees pouring into Lebanon as winter approaches, a senior United Nations official today reviewed with the country’s premier the need for international financial aid and humanitarian arrangements to tackle the influx.
“The coordination between the government, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations in addressing the needs of the refugees is close,” the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, told reporters after his meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, the Lebanese capital.
More than 300,000 refugees have so far fled to neighbouring countries to escape the violence in Syria, where over 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted 19 months ago.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced last week that it was rolling out a winterization programme, along with its partners in Lebanon, to provide refugees and vulnerable Lebanese with heating fuel, mattresses, blankets and clothes as well as refurbished accommodation in preparation for the colder months.
But, the refugee agency warned, the scattered nature of the refugee population in Lebanon is posing challenges in providing assistance in remote areas.
Mr. Plumbly noted that the United Nations recently launched an updated financial appeal for nearly $488 million to assist the rapidly increasing numbers of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. An earlier appeal in March projected an estimated 100,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2012 – but the latest UNHCR estimates project that the number could now reach 700,000.
“We are of course deeply concerned at the extent of the current violence in Syria,” the Special Coordinator said. “Lebanon is honouring its humanitarian obligations and winning great credit thereby. The United Nations has been clear in its condemnation of the recurrent violations of the country’s borders.”
He added, “We have been equally clear in our support for the efforts of the President, the Prime Minister and the country’s leaders collectively to distance Lebanon from the worst effects of the crisis. Against the backdrop of recent events I would like to take this opportunity to underline again the need for all concerned to commit to this and to give absolute priority to keeping Lebanon safe.”
The ongoing violence in neighbouring Syria has fuelled sectarian tensions across Lebanon and raised concerns that the country could plunge back into the internecine violence it endured during its 15 year civil war, which ended in 1990.
The last weeks of August witnessed fighting between supporters and opponents of the Syrian Government in Beirut, while tensions also increased in other parts of the country, such as the northern city of Tripoli. Moreover, a series of kidnappings also contributed to escalation in tensions.
Mr. Plumbly and Mr. Mikati also welcomed the calm that has held along the so-called Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon, following Israel’s month-long war with the Lebanese Hizbollah group in the 2006.