UN chief calls for more solidarity with Lebanon, especially refugees


The international community has not done enough to support Lebanon, said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. The country is suffering from a severe economic crisis while trying to accommodate more than a million Syrian refugees.

During a three-day visit to Lebanon, Guterres pleaded for more support after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

“I think that the international community has not done enough to support Lebanon (…) and other countries in the world which have opened their borders, their doors and their hearts to refugees when, unfortunately, some very richer and much more powerful are closing their borders, ”Guterres said. Monday (December 20). “If there is one word to characterize my visit, this word is solidarity,” he added.

Guterres also said a 12-month UN emergency response plan launched in August had only attracted about 11% of its targets of $ 383 million.

Lebanon is one of the countries with the largest per capita refugee population in the world. The country has also been facing a severe recession for over two years now.

People check clothes and shoes donated by citizens to poor families outside the central bank in Beirut, Lebanon July 7, 2020 | Photo: EPA / Nabil Mounzer

A whole country is collapsing

Since late 2019, the country has experienced a severe economic downturn, including a dramatic devaluation of the national currency – the situation has been described as one of the economic crises in recent history.

Many of the country’s problems have been attributed to a long history of government corruption, which has resulted in fatal shortages in the delivery of public services, resulting in, among other things, mismanagement of garbage collection and risks to public safety.

The massive explosion at the port of Beirut on August 04, 2020, which left at least 216 dead and devastated much of the capital, was also linked to embezzlement of public funds intended to ensure good control of imports. The explosion was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse for almost six years without following safety protocols.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further worsened the situation in Lebanon, as inflation and commodity prices have skyrocketed. According to a UN report, more than 70% of Lebanon’s official population now live below the poverty line.

Read more: Berlin welcomes 95 Syrian refugees from Lebanon

Migrants, refugees suffering during the pandemic

At least one in seven people in Lebanon is a refugee or a migrant. In addition to hosting more than a million Syrian refugees, the small country hosts a large community of migrants from the Horn of Africa. For decades, it has also hosted camps for Palestinians in neighboring Israel.

Animosity towards these groups has increased as Lebanese nationals feel that their country cannot endure the responsibility of caring for so many people. Lebanon has been slow to include migrants and refugees in its immunization campaigns, while the general lack of equal access to health care has also created particular difficulties for migrant and refugee populations during the last two years.

Meanwhile, amid all the desperation and misery in the country, many Lebanese nationals have expressed their intention to leave their home countries, and many are ready to put their lives in danger while paying exorbitant sums to the smugglers. Many are heading to Cyprus, which is around 170 kilometers from the Lebanese coast by boat.

According to the refugee agency UNHCR, 1,570 people attempted to cross the Mediterranean this year, twice as many as a year earlier.

Read more: Lebanon: 120,000 migrants need humanitarian aid, IOM

All eyes on the 2022 elections

At the start of his visit, Guterres announced that the visit would focus on seeking support for the people of the crisis-stricken country, including refugees from Syria. He urged the small country’s political leaders to overcome their differences, many of which are based on religious and ideological grounds.

Various international donors have extended humanitarian assistance to the country to deal with the fallout from the crisis, but have frozen direct support to the government until reforms are enacted to preserve better leadership. The divisions have also delayed negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a stimulus package.

Guterres stressed that next year’s elections in Lebanon would be “key” to the country’s future – even though the country’s politicians still disagree on when and details of how the vote will be held.

“Now is the time for Lebanese political leaders to unite to overcome divisions and now is the time for the international community to underscore its support for the Lebanese people,” Guterres said.

Read more: Lebanon expels Syrian refugees turned back by Cyprus

with AP, dpa


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