International aid lags for Lebanon’s displaced

Lebanon bears the biggest number of Syrian refugees, yet still receives the smallest portion of the international aid pledged to host countries.

al-monitor Syrian refugees walk outside tents at a refugee camp during a snowstorm in Zahle, in the Bekaa Valley, Jan. 7, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir.

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unhcr, syrian refugees in lebanon, syrian refugees, lebanon, international aid, humanitarian crisis, humanitarian aid

Jan 12, 2015

As the number of displaced Syrians has reached 2,200,000, the Lebanese government tightened its measures on its borders, along land crossings with Syria as well as at Beirut’s international airport. This came as an expression of finally noticing the blocked horizon regarding the Syrian crisis on the one hand, and the displacement issue which is beginning to threaten Lebanon’s stability on the security, economic and social levels on the other. Not to mention the desperation regarding the possibility of interpreting the said international support for Lebanon, despite the dozens of visits to Beirut and several meetings and international conferences for the displaced. All of this only resulted in disappointment.

Last year, Lebanon participated in a number of conferences, most importantly, the second international conference for donors to support the humanitarian situation in Syria, which was held in Kuwait in January 2014 and attended by representatives from 39 countries and during which, it was decided that $1.5 billion was to be donated to bear the consequences of displacement, from which Lebanon had a significant share … theoretically.

Lebanon also participated in the second conference for the International Support Group for Lebanon in Paris in March 2014 as well as the fifth meeting for the International Support Group. Lebanon also attended the Berlin Conference on the Syrian Refugee Situation, in which 29 countries and 10 international organizations participated following Germany’s invitation in October 2014. In addition, Lebanon participated in several international meetings that were held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings last September, which were attended by Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

However, despite all these conferences and visits, the countries did not keep their promises. This is exactly what happened in the General Assembly in New York and in Berlin before that, where the donor countries decided to donate 140 million euros to support the countries hosting displaced Syrians, from which 57 million euros were dedicated to Lebanon in 2014, and Germany had dedicated 500 million euros for the next three years for host countries, but Lebanon’s share was not determined. The United States also donated $10 million for the host countries, not to mention the aid that Sweden decided to give Lebanon, which was worth $8.5 million.

Lebanon was only given empty promises and even if the aid were to arrive, it would not pass through the Public Treasury; it would be given to the displaced Syrians through the international organizations and not even through the Lebanese government. Meanwhile, 100,000 displaced Syrians face the threat of suffering from hunger since the Word Food Programme decided to suspend its support, as it did in the beginning of last December due to the lack of aid, before it resumed its work in the same month, but without guarantees that the donor countries would respect their commitments to the “program.”

Meanwhile, the majority of the financial aid is not dedicated to investment projects that would revive the economy, create new job opportunities and reinforce the social unity in regions where displaced Syrians live. The financial aid rather is limited to direct support for the displaced, (food, accommodation, educational and health services, etc.) while the Lebanese economy spends $7.5 billion per year (according to the World Bank’s latest estimations) in addition to the significant decrease in the economy’s growth due to the decline in economic activity (especially trade and tourism) as a result of the Syrian crisis.

According to the World Bank’s most recent review, Lebanon’s financial situation is expected to continue to deteriorate. The most important index is the expansion of the deficit, which reached 10.2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2014, compared to 9.4% in 2013. In addition, the public debt-to-GDP ratio reached 149% in 2014, compared to 143.1% at the end of 2013.

More displacement, less aid

According to a report provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the beginning of this year, donor countries have paid $694,311,565 out of $1,515,491.9 (the cost of displacement in Lebanon) which is around 46% of what UNHCR had requested to secure basic needs of Syrian refugees, even though this percentage was 52% in 2013. In addition, at the beginning of 2013, Lebanon asked the donor countries to grant it $370 million to fund the health, education and social services for the displaced Syrians, but only received 30% of its request, the equivalent of $100 million.

It seems clear that the international aid in financing the needs of the displaced in Lebanon is inferior to those provided to other countries (Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt), although the number of displaced people in Lebanon is the highest, according to a study prepared by the UNHCR in early 2014.

This study shows that the largest number of displaced Syrians went to Lebanon (around 1 million). Until last May, the displaced Syrians represented around 26.20% of Lebanon’s population, while during the same period they barely represented 10% of other countries’ populations, as they constituted 9.5% of Jordan's population, only 3% in Turkey and less than 1% in Egypt, Iraq and North African countries.

In addition to the population, the difference between Lebanon and other host countries in terms of geographical size and economic activity is also quite clear. For example, the size of the Turkish economy is 20 times the size of the Lebanese economy and the Turkish territory is 80 times larger than the Lebanese territory.

More than 52% of the displaced Syrians are women

It does not stop there: The UNHCR study indicates that the largest number of displaced people in Lebanon are women (over 52%), while the proportion of children under 18 years old amounts to about 53%, and more than 3% are over the age of 60.

Thus, the high numbers of children, women and elderly result in additional burdens on Lebanon in terms of social and health care, and other essential needs for the displaced Syrians alone.

According to reports issued by international organizations, about 30% of the displaced are living in difficult conditions: 40% of them live in tents, collective shelters, unfinished buildings and garages. Around 14% are living in informal camps that are not subject to state control and oversight, and 18% live in separate rooms.

Distrust in the Lebanese government

An unpublished official Lebanese report attributes the displacement crisis and the scarcity of international aid for the Lebanese government to “donor countries and international institutions [which] do not trust Lebanon’s demands, claiming, without saying so explicitly, that the reason behind this was the performance of the Lebanese government institutions,” meaning the rampant waste and corruption in addition to the lack of transparency in the use of aid as well as the division between the parties forming the Lebanese government on how to deal with the displacement issue.

The solution, as presented in the report, is for the Lebanese authorities to communicate with the donor countries to secure as much aid as possible and to put it at the disposal of the Lebanese government. It was also recommended to expand the representation in the International Support Group for Lebanon to include other countries in order to enlarge Lebanon's ability to attract a more comprehensive and international political cover and to secure financial resources directly to the Public Treasury.

The Lebanese report also stresses the need for direct or indirect coordination regarding the displaced Syrians between four parties: Lebanon, Syria, the donor countries and the United Nations, in addition to international organizations, as well as the need for the formation of a Lebanese-Syrian joint committee that should meet periodically between Beirut and Damascus.

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