The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, concluded a two-day visit to Lebanon today, paying tribute to the government and its people for continuing to provide refuge to the highest number of refugees per capita in the world.
Eight-year-old Abdulhay, a refugee from Syria, welcomes UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi as he visits an informal refugee settlement in Mhammara, Lebanon. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell
Beirut, 9 March 2019 – The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, concluded a two-day visit to Lebanon today, paying tribute to the government and its people for continuing to provide refuge to the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. In his meetings with the government, which included President Aoun, the Speaker of Parliament, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Social and Refugee Affairs and the Director General of General Security (GSO), Grandi reaffirmed UNHCR’s commitment to continue its support to Lebanon to both refugees and Lebanese communities. He will reiterate this appeal at a major aid conference for Syria in Brussels later this week.
“After eight years of this terrible war, the impact on Lebanon is very heavy and this cannot be taken for granted by the international community,” said Grandi, who arrived in Lebanon following a three-day visit to Syria. He acknowledged Lebanon’s growing fatigue at hosting over one million Syrians for so many years but expressed his hope that it would not lead to growing restrictions, which, he said could fuel social tension.
A number of Syrian refugees have already made the decision to return home. UNHCR staff meet with people before returning to ensure they possess the proper documentation such as birth and school certificates and are also present at the departure points of all GSO organized movements. Access to returning refugees is also required in Syria. During his meetings in Damascus, Grandi called for more UNHCR access to places of return, a confidence-building measure, as well as the scaling up of UNHCR’s presence to provide more support to IDP and refugee returnees.
During a visit with families living in informal settlements near Tripoli today, Grandi heard accounts in line with UNHCR’s surveys – that the majority of refugees here wish to return home. Small numbers have gone back, but many have fears and concerns that are holding them back. “Syrian refugees need trust that their return will be safe, secure and dignified,” Grandi said.
He added that the refugees cite concerns around five areas: safety & security (retaliation, persecution, military conscription); housing (repairing or rebuilding destroyed homes); access to services (schools, healthcare); legal issues (documents, property deeds) and access to basic livelihoods.
UNHCR in Syria is currently working to address some of these obstacles, including by advising the government on documentation issues, offering returnees basic repairs so damaged homes can be reoccupied, refurbishing schools and bakeries and offering initial humanitarian aid to enable reintegration.
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