Lebanon: Refugees and host communities need our support, says Valerie Amos
The United Nation’s Humanitarian Chief, Valerie Amos concluded her visit to Lebanon today after visiting families who have fled the violence in Syria. Lebanon hosts more than half a million refugees from Syria, and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has warned that the number could reach 1 million by the end of the year if the situation does not improve.
“Since my last visit to Lebanon just six months ago, the number of refugees has increased by more than 200 per cent,” said Ms. Amos. “By the end of the year, refugees could make up 20 per cent of Lebanon’s population.”
More than 30 per cent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living in the Bekaa region in the country’s east. Ms. Amos visited two refugee settlements in the region and saw the desperate circumstances that families are living in, with many lacking sufficient access to basic services such as health care and education for their children. Although UN agencies and humanitarian partners are providing aid in the settlements, the growing number of refugees is stretching their ability to respond.
“It is Syria’s future that is being blighted”
The UNHCR centre in Bekaa registers an average of 900 refugees from Syria every day. At the centre, Ms Amos met a family that had just arrived from Homs, the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks. They told her that they had lost everything and were very concerned about the safety of their four children. One of their sons had suffered a bullet wound to his shoulder when he went out to get some bread.
“The situation in Syria is clearly getting much worse,” said Ms. Amos. “Many families talked about the intensity of the fighting and its impact on their children. Over 50 per cent of the Syrian refugees here are children. It’s Syria’s future that is being blighted.”
She visited the Saadnayel and El Faaor settlement for refugees where hundreds of people live. Many of the Syrians who recently arrived at Saadnayel fled fighting in the western Syrian city of Al Qusayr. A mother she met told her that her family had lost everything.
“We keep saying that we need peace and stability in Syria but countries that have influence on the parties on the ground, on the Government, on the different groups that are fighting need to do all they can to bring them to the table, to talk transition and to talk peace,” said Ms. Amos.
A huge burden
The increasing number of refugees is having an impact of the communities that are hosting them in Lebanon. “The Government and people of Lebanon have opened their borders and doors to their Syrian neighbours in time of need. And the crisis is taking a toll on the economy and on the provision of basic services in the country,” Ms. Amos added.
In the southern suburbs of Beirut, Ms. Amos visited a UN Development Programme project which works with humanitarian partners and local authorities to improve refugee and host community access to social services in some of the poorest parts of the country.
“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 those communities.”