UN Refugee Chief urges support for Lebanon as risk grows that Syria conflict could cross borders

Press Releases, 18 June 2013

18 June 2013 UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres kicked off a visit to the region to mark World Refugee Day by meeting with leaders and refugees in Lebanon today. Mr Guterres sounded the alarm about the massive support needed for refugees and for the countries and communities hosting them. He noted that the long-feared spillover of the Syrian crisis into neighboring countries is becoming a "harsh reality" that must be addressed "to prevent the flames of war from spreading across the Middle East."

Presenting the largest ever humanitarian funding plan for Lebanon, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Mr. Guterres appealed to a room full of international donors for $1.7 billion dollars that will be required for Lebanon. Forming part of the updated Syria Regional Response Plan (RRP5), the appeal for Lebanon includes $450 million for the government of Lebanon's own response capacity community for its support so far and highlighted the increasing challenges Lebanon is facing.

Amid worsening violence, the number of Syrians fleeing to Lebanon is projected to reach well over one million by the end of 2013. The pressure on local communities is overwhelming. "Lebanon is a small country with a big heart," Mr. Guterres told reporters in Beirut. "There is not a village, city or town in Lebanon that is not hosting Syrian refugees," he added. Echoing this concern, Lebanon's Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abou Faour said that "Lebanon alone cannot cope with the Syrian refugee crisis. We are talking about Lebanon's stability."

In a statement, Mr. Guterres noted that, from the beginning, the crisis in Syria has posed a threat to regional peace and security. "This threat is now becoming a harsh reality with an increasing risk of spillover of the conflict into neighboring countries," he said. "The international community must overcome its divisions and come together to stop the fighting if we want to prevent the flames of war from spreading across the Middle East."

"Lebanon and other neighboring countries need massive support so that they can continue to receive and help so many refugees and preserve stability," the High Commissioner said. "It is very important to support humanitarian organizations. But it is just as important to directly support the government, the relevant Ministries and local communities."

While in Beirut Mr. Guterres also met with the Lebanese President, Michel Sleiman. Mr Guterres will continue his visit to the region in Jordan on 19 20 June. World Refugee Day is marked every year on 20 June.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Beirut, Dana Sleiman on mobile +961 3 827 323
  • On mission in Beirut/Amman, Melissa Fleming on mobile +41 79 557 9122
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A Bleak Milestone in Lebanon, Visualized

The number of refugees fleeing from Syria into neighbouring Lebanon passed the 1 million mark today, a bleak milestone exacerbated by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point.

A Bleak Milestone in Lebanon, Visualized

The Most Important Thing: Syrian Refugees

What would you bring with you if you had to flee your home and escape to another country? More than 1 million Syrians have been forced to ponder this question before making the dangerous flight to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq or other countries in the region.

This is the second part of a project by photographer Brian Sokol that asks refugees from different parts of the world, "What is the most important thing you brought from home?" The first instalment focused on refugees fleeing from Sudan to South Sudan, who openly carried pots, water containers and other objects to sustain them along the road.

By contrast, people seeking sanctuary from the conflict in Syria must typically conceal their intentions by appearing as though they are out for a family stroll or a Sunday drive as they make their way towards a border. Thus they carry little more than keys, pieces of paper, phones and bracelets - things that can be worn or concealed in pockets. Some Syrians bring a symbol of their religious faith, others clutch a reminder of home or of happier times.

The Most Important Thing: Syrian Refugees

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

Mahmoud,15, hasn't been to school in 3 years. In his native Syria, his parents were afraid to send him because of the civil war. They ended up fleeing a year ago when, in the early morning hours, a bomb fell on a nearby house. The family, still groggy from being jolted awake, grabbed what they could and fled to Lebanon. Their home and the local school have since been destroyed.

In Lebanon, Mahmoud's father is unable to find work and now the family can barely afford rent.

A month ago, Mahmoud started working for tips cleaning fish at a small shop next to his home. He makes about $60 USD a month. With this money he helps pay rent on his family's tiny underground room, shared between his parents and eight brothers and sisters. Mahmoud is proud to help his family but with the fish shop located in the same subterranean structure as his home, he barely goes out into the sunshine.

Children like Mahmoud, some as young as seven, often work long hours for little pay, and in some cases in dangerous conditions. These children forfeit their future by missing out on an education and the carefree years of childhood. Many are also traumatized by what they witnessed back in Syria.

UNHCR and its partners together with local governments are providing financial assistance to help vulnerable Syrian refugee families cover expenses like rent and medical care, which means there is less need to pull children out of school and put them to work. UN agencies and their partners have also established case management and referral systems in Jordan and Lebanon to identify children at risk and refer them to the appropriate services.

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud