Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Lebanon threatens to expel Syrian refugees if it does not get $3.2bn in international aid

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, June 21st 2022 à 15:40 | Read 304 times

1.5 million Syrian refugees in need in Lebanon (photo: WFP/Edmond Khoury)
1.5 million Syrian refugees in need in Lebanon (photo: WFP/Edmond Khoury)
LEBANON. "Lebanon has been hosting displaced Syrians for over eleven years now. At a time when resources are increasingly stretched by the economic crisis, increased support to displaced people and Lebanese host communities remains a top priority for the Lebanese government and its partners," Hector Hajjar said on Monday 20 June 2022.

In presenting the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2022-2023 (LCRP), the Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs sounded the alarm. "We urge you to stand with Lebanon, its people and its government, alongside the displaced to meet their urgent needs, and to work together to overcome the obstacles to their safe return to their homeland," he implored. The government is calling for $3.2bn (€3.03bn) in aid to support local families and refugees. His appeal is being echoed by the UN and its partners.

Having already provided $9bn (€8.52bn) since 2015, the PRCL brings together 126 humanitarian partners. The plan aims to provide support to 1.5 million Lebanese, 1.5 million displaced Syrians and over 209,000 Palestinian refugees.

Nine out of ten Syrians live in poverty

According to Najat Rochdi, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon, nine out of ten Syrians live in poverty in the country. She adds that "poverty levels have also increased substantially for Lebanese citizens, migrants and Palestinian refugees".

There are no official refugee camps in Lebanon. "Syrians are scattered in villages in urban and rural areas. They often share precarious housing with other refugee families in overcrowded conditions," says the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

"These circumstances lead to negative coping mechanisms, as families are forced to send their children to work rather than school, skip meals or go into debt," it comments. It stresses the importance of support to municipalities so that they can "maintain basic services in the context of huge capacity gaps," says a UN statement.

The Lebanese government is committed to increasing the number of local families receiving regular cash assistance under the national poverty reduction programme funded by donors in the PRCL. There are now 36,000 families receiving this funding and this number is expected to rise to 75,000 in the next two months. Financed by a World Bank loan, a social safety net also exists for these populations. It provides monthly support to some 60,000 of the poorest Lebanese families for one year and aims to expand to a total of 150,000 families.

Assisted return or expulsion

"The situation is no longer tenable," says Hajjar. His Prime Minister Najib Mikati was more direct than he was when he said "Lebanon is no longer able to carry such a burden. He called on "the international community to cooperate with Lebanon to repatriate the Syrian displaced." And warns that without support, "Beirut will take a decision that is not desirable for Western countries, namely the expulsion of Syrians."

Lebanon and its 6.7 million inhabitants remains the country that hosts the largest number of refugees per capita and square kilometre in the world according to the UNHCR. It is also a state that has been going through the biggest economic and social crisis in its history since 2019 - called one of the worst in the world since 1850 by the World Bank - and has been in default of payments since March 2020

The UNHCR estimates that there are 6.6 million Syrian refugees, 5.6 million of whom are in countries neighbouring Syria. Turkey hosts the largest number (3.72 million as of 16 June 2022). Lebanon hosts 839,000 (despite the PRCL's target of helping 1.5 million), Jordan 675,000, Iraq 260,680 and Egypt 141,300 according to the latest figures as of 16 June 2022 from the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Olivier De Schutter, an expert commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, said in a report in May 2022 : "Political leaders are completely disconnected from reality, including the despair they have created by destroying people's lives. It also describes Lebanon as one of the most unequal countries in the world, but the leaders seem at best unaware of this and at worst comfortable with it". He even spoke of a "failed state".

The UN placed Lebanon's crisis on red alert on 16 June 2022. Najat Rochdi estimates that 2.2 million people are in urgent need of assistance to ensure access to food and other basic needs until the end of the year. This is an increase of 46% compared to 2021.

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