UN official urges support as Lebanon struggles to cope with 'huge burden' of Syrian refugees
The United Nations humanitarian chief today called for support for the more than half a million Syrian refugees that have fled to Lebanon and the local communities hosting them, stressing that the crisis is taking a toll on the country's economy.
“Since my last visit to Lebanon just six months ago, the number of refugees has increased by more than 200 per cent,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said in Beirut, at the end of her visit to the country.
“By the end of the year, refugees could make up 20 per cent of Lebanon's population.”
Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, over 1.7 million people have fled Syria to neighbouring countries and Lebanon has received the largest number of refugees in the region.
Last month, the UN launched a $3 billion humanitarian appeal to provide life-saving aid and protection to Syrian refugees. Of the $3 billion, $1.7 billion is destined to help those who have fled to Lebanon.
However, humanitarian organizations and the Lebanese Government have only received 15 per cent of the funding needed so far, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“The Government and people of Lebanon have opened their borders and doors to their Syrian neighbours in time of need,” said Ms. Amos. “And the crisis is taking a toll on the economy and on the provision of basic services, such as health and education, in the country.”
During her visit, Ms. Amos travelled to Lebanon's Bekaa region which is hosting some 180,000 refugees and visited many Syrian families staying at the Saadnayel and El Faaor settlements, where the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is working with humanitarian organizations to provide them essential aid supplies such as food, water and shelter.
“Over 50 per cent of the Syrian refugees here are children. It is Syria's future that is being blighted,” Ms. Amos said. “We need to do all we can to support the Lebanese Government […] if you have thousands of refugees crossing the border every day, it's a huge burden not just on the country but also on the people who are hosting the refugees.”
Ms. Amos also visited a UN Development Programme (UNDP) project in the southern suburbs of Beirut seeking to improve access to social services for communities in some of the poorest parts of the country. Many of these communities in Beirut are now hosting hundreds of refugees from Syria.