Despite continuing challenges, a mood of optimism has taken hold in Lebanon following the recent election of President Michel Aoun and additional political breakthroughs are expected.
The UN Special Coordinator for the country, Sigrid Kaag, spoke with UN Radio as she prepared to update the UN Security Council in New York on the ongoing situation.
Lebanon is in a volatile region, particularly given the ongoing crisis in Syria. The stability of the country is therefore crucial. It is currently hosting 1.1 million Syrian refugees in addition to the 300,000 Palestine refugees since 1948.
“Lebanon is a unique country. It needs to be preserved and shielded,” said Ms. Kaag as she called upon the international community to do its part.
President Aoun was elected on 31 October 2016, ending the country’s 29 months without a president. Following his election, the Security Council urged the new Government to build on efforts to ensure the nation’s stability in the region.
In terms of security challenges, Ms. Kaag explained that the situation is always evolving.
“There are risks of incursion, of armed extremists from neighbouring Syria,” she said. “There is a continuous slow undercurrent, a risk of radicalization within the country. And, of course, the broader socio-economic conditions that have negatively affected Lebanon in view also of the Syria crisis – that creates new tensions within.”
UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, says recent political breakthrough in Lebanon has given a new level of confidence in the country. Credit: UN News Centre
When asked about the effects of the refugee situation in the country, the Special Coordinator applauded the Lebanese Government and its people for their tremendous generosity of spirit. Nearly one in four people in Lebanon are refugees – something that she acknowledged is not sustainable for the small country.
However, according to Ms. Kaag, the matter is “less of a security issue and more of an overall containment of a situation which presents a challenge for Lebanese citizens and of course the refugees who look forward to a safe return when time permits.”
She cited the nation’s tolerance and accommodating response, but also noted that people remain anxious as the refugees’ return depends on a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
The Lebanese people have been very tolerant, generous, and accommodating, but they are anxious, says UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag. Credit: UN News Centre
“In the meantime,” she said, “we have to do as much as we can to provide support to the refugees: protection, access to school, healthcare, and employment opportunities where possible. But we also have to make sure that [those who are] vulnerable [in Lebanon] do not feel left behind and that they are taken care of.”
The recently elected Government, she said, has “given a new level of confidence.” The “incredible dignity and ability to thrive despite all the challenges is remarkable.”