By Jane Morse
IIP Staff Writer
30 October 2013
Sometimes the helper needs help, as in the case of Lebanon, which has willingly provided safe haven for more than 800,000 refugees seeking to escape the violence in Syria.
“There is now not a single village or town in Lebanon that has not been affected by the presence of refugees from Syria,” says Anne Richard, the State Department’s assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration. The refugee influx into tiny Lebanon, she said, is the equivalent of 75 million people — or two times the population of Canada — flooding into the United States.
During an October 29 discussion at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank, Richard said Lebanon has kept its border open to those fleeing the conflict in Syria.
“Lebanon’s steadfast commitment to the international humanitarian principle of protection serves as an example to the region,” Richard said. But she noted that Lebanon “has paid a heavy price for its generosity.”
A recent World Bank study reported that since the beginning of the Syria crisis, an additional 170,000 Lebanese have been pushed into poverty. Nonetheless, the government of Lebanon has opened up its hospitals and clinics to Syrian refugees and allowed refugee children to enroll in its already overcrowded schools, Richard said.
But Lebanon’s infrastructure is buckling under the burden, Richard said. “That is why we have provided over $254 million in humanitarian assistance to organizations in Lebanon to deliver food, shelter, medical care, clean water, education support, trauma counseling, and warm clothes and blankets not just to refugees in need, but also to Lebanese communities hosting refugees,” Richard said.
“This assistance,” Richard said, “has helped provide basic renovations for Lebanese families who have welcomed Syrians into their homes and need support to fix up their kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces to accommodate their guests.
U.S. funding, Richard said, provides for books and supplies in schools, teacher training, after-school activities, and new playground equipment for both refugee and Lebanese children. “We also fund projects to improve water and sanitation in local communities so that everyone — Lebanese and refugees alike — can access clean water and live in a healthier environment,” she said.
The brutal Assad regime has killed more than 100,000 people and driven 2.2 million Syrians out of the country, Richard said.
“Most of the refugees fervently hope that they will return home to Syria someday,” Richard said. But the conflict is expanding, dashing the hopes of most refugees of returning home and living safely. “That means the international community must find ways to help the Syrian people and the generous host communities while the hard work of seeking a peaceful political solution to the crisis continues,” Richard said.
Richard praised the “unprecedented cooperation” among humanitarian, economic and development agencies now working in Lebanon, and lauded the financial aid and diplomatic efforts provided by Kuwait and other governments worldwide. But more needs to be done, she said.
“We must look at Lebanon’s longer-term development needs in tandem with the emergency relief response,” Richard said. “This is so that we can not only avoid a humanitarian catastrophe related to the influx of Syrians, but also help avoid embroiling Lebanon in a spiral of instability stemming from economic collapse and social strife resulting from its refugee influx.”
Richard commended “the groundbreaking efforts” undertaken by the Lebanese government with the World Bank and the United Nations to assess needs and lay out a “road map” of interventions to guide the international community’s response. She noted that at the September 25 International Support Group for Lebanon meeting in New York, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry demonstrated the United States’ commitment to support Lebanon through this crisis by announcing an additional $30 million in aid.
Richard urged the international community “to think creatively and proactively about how we can work together with Lebanon to provide this complex mix of assistance in a way that is sustainable.”