UNHCR Special Envoy calls for leadership to address Syria crisis
BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon, March 15 (UNHCR) - UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt on Tuesday called on world governments to show leadership in addressing the Syrian and wider global refugee crisis, during a visit to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to mark the fifth anniversary of the start of the Syria conflict.
The five-year conflict has fuelled the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, with 4.8 million Syrians forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries and a further 6.6 million displaced inside the country.
"On this day, the fifth anniversary of the Syria conflict, that is where I had hoped to be - in Syria, helping UNHCR with returns and watching the families I have come to know be able to go home. It is tragic and shameful that we seem still so far from that point," the Special Envoy told a news conference.
She called on governments to find diplomatic solutions to the crisis, and to look at what more they themselves can do to provide safety to those fleeing persecution and war.
The Special Envoy said: "We are at an exceptionally difficult moment internationally, when the consequences of the refugee crisis seem to be outstripping our will and capacity and even our courage to respond to it."
She went on to say "we cannot manage the world through aid relief in the place of diplomacy and political solutions," adding that, "it is not a time for emotion. It is a time for reason and calm and foresight."
"Leadership in this situation is about doing more than simply protecting your borders or putting forward more aid," the Special Envoy said. "My plea today is that we need governments around the world to show leadership, to analyze the situation, to understand exactly what their countries can do, how many refugees they can assist and how."
The Special Envoy visited informal tented settlements in the Bekaa Valley to meet with refugee families. She praised their spirit and resilience, but warned that years of crisis were taking a heavy toll.
"I have seen on this visit just how desperate the struggle to survive is now for these families after five years in exile. Any savings they had have been exhausted. Many who started out living in apartments now cluster in abandoned shopping centres or informal settlements, sinking deeper and deeper into debt," she said.
Of more than 1.06 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, half now live below the minimum threshold for survival, unable to afford basic necessities such as food and shelter.
Years of hosting millions of refugees has also placed a huge strain on the resources and infrastructure of neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, where the number of Syrian refugees amounts to around a quarter of the total population.
"Lebanon has displayed incredible generosity in hosting more than a million Syrian refugees, but the length and severity of the crisis has stretched the country's resources to the limit. The rest of the world must show much greater solidarity in all its forms with refugees and the countries hosting them," said UNHCR Representative in Lebanon Mireille Girard.
By Charlie Dunmore in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon