For Caritas Lebanon, the refugee burden is unsustainable, peace in Syria is urgent

Maronite bishops call for a safe and dignified return of refugees. But the bases for peace and security are still missing. Lebanon risks economic and social collapse. For the UN, a repatriation plan is still premature. Fr Karam wants the international community to promote a peace process in Syria that respects everyone involved.

Jun 19, 2018

BEIRUT: Lebanon "can no longer bear the burden of welcoming" Syrian refugees fleeing the war, said Fr Paul Karam, director of Caritas Lebano said.

Involved in the humanitarian crisis for more than seven years, he explains that the Lebanese are "becoming increasingly impoverished" in their small compacted country.

Unlike Jordan and Turkey, it has suffered "major losses in economic and social terms, so much so that that the whole system could collapse."

To solve the emergency and guarantee a future to the country and the entire region, "it is necessary for the international community to promote a real peace process", one that is "dignified and sincere" because “those who always pay are the weak. We must work responsibly for peace, respecting everyone."

In January, a Lebanese minister said that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon had declined to under a million. However, according to UN data, the situation is more complicated than that, and today refugees are "more vulnerable than ever".

Three quarters live with less than four dollars a day, and money is not enough to buy the basics, like food and medicine.

Nine refugees out of ten have borrowed money and are now overwhelmed with debt. Each household spends on average US a month, US on food.

According to UN figures, 84 per cent of the world’s refugees are in poor countries, such as Turkey (2.9 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Lebanon (over one million in a country of four million), Iran (979,400 migrants), Uganda (940,800) and Ethiopia (761,600).

At the end of the annual Synod in Bkerké (11-15 June), the Maronite Church called for a "safe and dignified" return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon.

The bishops hope for an "unequivocal position" and that the matter not be used by various political factions against each other. Likewise, the international community must not use the weapon of "fear" to block a plan to return to areas deemed safe.

Still, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees recently noted that any talk of a return of Syrian refugees is premature. Many of the latter also fear the violence they might encounter once they go home. What everyone wants is a political solution to the war in syria as a precondition to repatriation.

"We too hear stories of refugees who want to return to Syria,” said Fr Paul, “but we have no definite data on how many have actually returned. From personal observation, we can see the same number in the country. A few hundreds might leave, but they are replaced by more number coming in. and the needs remain the same.”

For this reason, the international community must make an effort to “guarantee that the return takes place in security, peace and the possibility of rebuilding a life, a home.”

For Lebanon, the refugee problem has led to the economic and social weakening of the country, which is already on the brink of collapse.

In the past few years, the country has done a lot to protect, promote and integrate the refugees as Pope Francis advocates in his Message on the occasion of the 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

"Lebanon responded to the pontiff’s appeal but now the whole system is at risk,” explains the Caritas director. “Reports suggest that 80 per cent of Syrian territory is stable, but there are still no serious plans for return. This is why we once again encourage the peace process [in Syria] as the only way to solve the problem.”--Asia News

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