Lebanese PM urges world help to cope with refugee influx

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Lebanon will present a comprehensive plan to help alleviate the enormous burden of Syrian refugees at an upcoming Syria conference in Brussels, but needs urgent international support to avoid collapse, Lebanon’s prime minister said Friday.

Speaking to a group of journalists ahead of the April 5 European conference in Brussels on supporting the future of Syria, Hariri warned that Lebanon faces serious security and economic issues and has reached breaking point.

“The international community has to understand that Lebanon cannot pay the price of the unresolved conflict in Syria,” Hariri said.

Lebanon, which shares a large border with Syria, has taken in some 1.2 million Syrian refugees - the equivalent of one-fourth of its own population - who have been a burden on Lebanon’s infrastructure. The tiny country beset with internal divisions now hosts the highest concentration of refugees and its people are often praised by world leaders for generously shouldering the burden of so many refugees.

The country has long refused setting up refugee camps like in Turkey or Jordan, fearing that would make the refugee presence more permanent. Consequently, unorganized makeshift settlements have sprouted across the country, putting a huge strain on local infrastructure and host communities whose populations have swelled to double or triple their size.

“Some people say we should have refugee camps in Lebanon. I say Lebanon has become a refugee camp,” Hariri said.

He cited World Bank estimates that the Syria crisis has cost Lebanon US$18 billion in lost economic activity since 2011. He also said Lebanon’s infrastructure was made to sustain four million people but the same infrastructure is now bearing 6 million people due to the presence of Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

“We have been pushing our capabilities to the extreme,” he said.

Hariri said Lebanon has prepared a plan to improve the infrastructure and the public services in a way that equally benefits Lebanese citizens and displaced Syrians, as well as increase economic growth and create job opportunities.

If the international community commits $10,000 to $12,000 per refugee every year over a period of five to seven years, investing in infrastructure, schooling, security and other sectors, “I think that will make sure that Lebanon could stand on its own,” Hariri said.

“For the longest time we’ve been extremely lucky, making sure that this crisis has not affected those host communities, but we have stretched our luck,” he added.

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