Lebanon can no longer bear the financial and security burden of hosting Syrian refugees, Syrian Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar told Ayaki Ito, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon on Saturday.
“The Lebanese state has always received less aid than the needs declared annually, despite the fact that 35% of the population is made up of displaced persons and refugees,” Hajjar said.
“According to reports, 82% of the Lebanese suffer from multidimensional poverty. The Lebanese state has incurred huge losses over the years, due to the displaced people benefiting from the state’s subsidies on basic commodities such as medicine, bread, and fuel, in addition to prison overcrowding and the resulting burdens, not to mention the security chaos and competition in the labor market.”
Hajjar also told the UN that Lebanon is no longer able to bear the cost of maintaining security in the refugee camps and the areas in which refugees have settled. Crime has also gone up among the Syrian refugees, according to Hajjar, and the situation is untenable.
“The social situation is also no longer tolerable,” Hajjar stated. “The non-Lebanese are admitted to hospitals, while the Lebanese can no longer be hospitalized. Others receive education, rent, and heating allowance, and the Lebanese get nothing.”
Lebanon has a population of just 6.8 million people. There are an estimated 865,530 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to the UNHCR, and a total of 1.5 million Syrians have settled in the struggling country since the outbreak of the 2011 civil war in Syria.
During a ministerial committee meeting to discuss the Syrian refugee situation – chaired by Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Lebanese Labor Minister Mustafa Bayram said, “Lebanon is no longer able to play policeman for other countries… The Lebanese state is no longer able to handle this matter…We no longer have diesel boats to monitor the sea, and the UN and UNHCR must step up and bear their responsibilities.”
“The Lebanese are queuing at banks and ATMs, while others receive direct aid in dollars,” Bayram continued. “They share our water, electricity and resources while we do not get anything. Many institutions, international organizations and countries are concluding agreements with Lebanese NGOs and paying them in dollars without going through the state, and frankly, this uncontrolled situation is no longer acceptable.”
For several years, Lebanon has been calling for the return of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to safe zones in Syria. Lebanese President Michel Aoun repeated this demand during a meeting of the Supreme Defense Council on Friday.
Since 2019, Lebanon has been struggling with a severe economic crisis, widely viewed as self-inflicted due to endemic corruption that has seen the value of the country’s currency go down by 90%. In addition, millions of Lebanese citizens are living in deep poverty, unable to buy food and other essentials. Power outages and lack of fuel are increasingly part of daily life in Lebanon. Last June, the World Bank ranked the Lebanese crisis as one of the top 10 worst financial crises in the world during the last 150 years.
Lebanese government officials frequently blame the financial crisis on the Syrian refugees in the country.
“A disaster followed the Arab Spring with the displacement of two and a half million Syrians to Lebanon,” said Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab in 2019.
“The international community promised to solve this crisis, and organizations assisted the displaced in many ways, but the host country remained alone,” Saab stated. “We are living in an economic crisis today caused by an accumulation of some 40 or 50 years, but the dawn of this crisis is the burden of the displaced.”