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Remarks to the International Support Group for Lebanon meeting by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Speeches and statements

Remarks to the International Support Group for Lebanon meeting by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

5 March 2014

Paris, 5 March 2014

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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When this group first met in New York in September, Lebanon hosted some 750,000 registered Syrian refugees. Today, there are over 950,000 - not counting the hundreds of thousands of Syrians that are living in Lebanon without having asked for assistance. Also not included are over 50,000 Palestinians who have fled to Lebanon from Syria, adding to the 270,000 that were already there before 2011.

UNHCR registers 12,000 Syrian refugees every week, using iris scan biometrics introduced last year. And if the flow of people seeking safety in Lebanon continues, there could be over 1.6 million registered Syrian refugees in the country by the end of this year.

But even now, Lebanon already has the highest per-capita concentration of refugees of any country in recent history, with nearly 230 registered Syrian refugees for every 1,000 Lebanese. That is over 70 times as many refugees per inhabitants as in France, and 270 times as many as in the United States.

The Regional Refugee Response Plan for Lebanon received over 880 million US dollars last year, which helped mount the response to unprecedented humanitarian needs, especially in protection, food, shelter and health care. But even this level of funding was insufficient, with painful choices having to be made in tightly targeting assistance.

Refugees are struggling, with 30% living in insecure shelter such as tents, unfinished buildings or warehouses, and with more and more forced to resort to begging, child labor or early marriages in order to provide for even their most basic survival needs. 75% of the refugees are women and children, with thousands of children arriving as orphans or separated from their families.

But as a growing number of villages and towns now host more Syrians than Lebanese, the crisis is also putting unimaginable pressure on host communities. Water, sanitation and waste management systems are already weakened to the point that serious health consequences are emerging for refugees and locals alike. Accommodation is in short supply, and rents have gone up nearly everywhere, stretching the resources of people in Lebanon's poorest regions that host the largest refugee numbers. Wages are plummeting, and many Lebanese families are struggling to make ends meet as a result.

The World Bank estimates that the Syria crisis has already cost Lebanon billions of dollars in lost economic activity. Unemployment may double by the end of this year and an additional 170,000 Lebanese risk being pushed into poverty. I leave you to imagine the crushing economic and social effects such a situation would have on any of our countries.

I find it absolutely remarkable that under the current circumstances, and given all the divisive factors brought about by the Syria crisis, Lebanon was able to reach an agreement on its new government. This is a crucial factor in drawing together ministries and communities across the political divide to respond to the refugee crisis.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As long as there is no end to the fighting in Syria, there is no quick solution in sight. But there are clear needs that need to be met in the meantime, in particular in Lebanon. This country is making an unparalleled contribution to the continued stability of the entire region, despite the enormous problems this is creating for its own society.

In this context, it is important to acknowledge that international support to government institutions and local communities is at a level that, although slowly increasing, is still totally out of proportion with what is needed. In a way, Lebanon represents a rather unique opportunity, given the early mapping of the socio-economic impact of the crisis, and the close coordination between Government, UN and World Bank which has led to good linkages between the humanitarian response and the longer term development agenda. A quarter of the 1.9 billion US dollars in the 2014 Regional Response Plan for Lebanon is for host community support and Lebanese institutions, corresponding to track one interventions in the stabilization road map. But this represents only an initial investment under a humanitarian appeal and needs to be complemented rapidly with much more robust and longer term stabilization and development efforts.

From the perspective of burden-sharing, the support that has materialized so far is a drop in the ocean, with only 1 ,450 refugees having left Lebanon under programmes providing them protection in third countries. But there are some encouraging developments. Several countries, in particular the US, have announced significant capacities for taking in more refugees, including from Lebanon, and Germany is doubling the size of its humanitarian admissions program. I hope that an international pledging conference in the coming months will help mobilize more places for protection in other countries. Our goal is to identify such opportunities for 100,000 Syrian refugees from the region in 2015 and 2016.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The generosity of the Lebanese people towards their neighbours attests to the best of the human spirit. More support to them is not only a moral imperative, but it is also badly needed to stop the further erosion of peace and security in this fragile society, and indeed the whole region. Lebanon is a key pillar in the international framework for the protection of Syrian refugees, and without it, that entire system would collapse.

Thank you very much.