UN Refugee Chief urges support for Syria's neighbours

News Stories, 18 June 2013

© UNHCR/E.Dorfman
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits a family from al Qusayre in Syria who have fled due to the conflict and who are now living in Sidon, Lebanon. "Mohamed", the father, at left, shows his fourteen-day old daughter to the High Commissioner. The baby was born with a cleft palate.

Sidon, Lebanon UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres sounded the alarm today about the need for massive support for Syria's 1.6 million refugees and for the countries and communities hosting them.

The long-feared spillover of the Syrian crisis into neighboring countries is becoming a "harsh reality", he warned during a visit to Lebanon, that must be urgently addressed "to prevent the flames of war from spreading across the Middle East."

After visiting one small village in the southern part of the country that is playing host to 5,000 refugees from Syria, he praised Lebanon for its generosity .

"Lebanon is a very small country, with a very big heart," he said. "There is not a village, city or town in Lebanon that is not hosting Syrian refugees."

And yet, he said, "Lebanon is facing an existential threat and needs and deserves massive support from the international community. It's absolutely essential that the wonderful generosity that we witness here in villages like these be met by the whole world."

"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," he added.

The High Commissioner made the remarks in Lebanon at the beginning of a regional visit to mark World Refugee Day, which each year is commemorated on 20 June.

During his visit to Lebanon, Mr. Guterres met with the Lebanese President, Michel Sleiman, the Prime Minister, Najib Mikati and the Minister for Social Affairs, Wael Abou Faour. He also met with municipal leaders in the southern city of Tyre, who called for more direct assistance to communities hosting refugees, and with refugees from the Syrian city of al-Qusayre, where fighting recently triggered a fresh influx of refugees into Lebanon. Earlier in the day, the High Commissioner visited a community center in Beirut that provides classes for refugee children and vocational training for adults alongside Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign and Security Policy.

© UNHCR/E.Dorfman
High Commissioner António Guterres visits Lebanon. At left, he is seated next to the caretaker Prime Minister of Lebanon, Nijab Mikati (center). They are viewing a film made about Syrian refugees to mark World Refugee Day on 20 June.

The High Commissioner joined with Prime Minister Mikati to present to international donor representatives Lebanon's biggest-ever humanitarian appeal. The appeal, which is Lebanon's share of the Regional Response Plan (RRP5) launched earlier this month, is for a total of $1.7 billion U.S. and includes $450 million U.S. for the government of Lebanon's own response capacity and for essential public services. "It is very important to support humanitarian organizations," Guterres explained. "But it is just as important to directly support the government, the relevant Ministries and local communities."

"Lebanon cannot cope with the Syrian refugee crisis alone," Lebanon's Minister for Social Affairs Wael Abou Faour, added later.

The High Commissioner called for more attention to the plight of Syria's refugees and Lebanon itself after visiting with one family of 12 that fled fighting in Syria earlier this month. The family is living in an airless, single room above an auto repair shop with no windows. One child was born recently with a cleft palate, another is mentally handicapped. "Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries need massive support so that they can continue to receive and help so many refugees and preserve stability," he said.

The High Commissioner will continue his visit to the region in Jordan on 19 20 June.

By Andrew Purvis in Beirut, Lebanon