UN-EU CSOs consultation meeting ahead of Brussels V Conference
Statement by Najat Rochdi, UN Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon.
Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Colleagues,
It is an enormous pleasure to be with you today, even if it’s just virtually, as we start the consultation process with Civil Society Organizations ahead of next month’s Brussels V Conference co-hosted by the European Union and the United Nations.
The Conference is undeniably an important yearly event that allows us to reflect on the progress made and the challenges faced, but it also helps renew our firm commitment to supporting the Syrian people and the neighboring countries, including Lebanon that continues to generously host millions of refugees from Syria.
After nearly a decade of conflict and socio-economic hardships, the scale of suffering remains shocking in Syria but the destabilizing effects are equally debilitating on the entire region, particularly on Lebanon. Over 1 million Syrian refugees, of whom 54% are children, continue to find themselves in a very dire situation in Lebanon.
Most of the refugees themselves, the Lebanese people and the Government, as well as us the aid actors, had thought - or even hoped - that the conflict would be over much sooner and the refugees would be able to repatriate in safety and with dignity. This is why some of the national policies invoked were geared towards addressing short-term humanitarian needs.
To date, large-scale voluntary repatriation is still not in sight although some refugees have taken the decision to return to Syria over the past years. Until a political solution is reached, we need to ensure that the refugee population in Lebanon is not left behind. This means scaling up efforts to save a generation of Syrian children and youth by investing in their human capital and helping increase their resilience during their time in exile, while also addressing their immediate humanitarian needs.
Unfortunately, the latest surveys show alarming levels of poverty, with 9 out of 10 Syrian refugees falling under the extreme poverty line – the highest rate to date and a 60% increase compared to 2019. Around 93% of the households have an average debt of LBP 1,835,838. According to the 2020 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees, only 4% of the Syrian families are food secure, leading to growing needs for food assistance.
Apart from reduced food consumption, delays in seeking medical care and increased debts among refugees, the deteriorating situation is also resulting in more family being evicted as they become unable to afford their rent.
The deplorable situation is also causing the prevalence of child labor and exploitation coupled with school dropouts, as well as increased cases of gender-based violence, and the adoption of desperate acts for survival like onward movements by sea to Cyprus. The compounding pressure on refugees to meet their families’ survival needs is also weighing heavily on their mental health and increasing the level of suicidal despair.
Ladies and gentlemen,
While we continue to pay tribute to the generosity of Lebanon, we must remind ourselves that the country’s conditions have significantly changed over the past few years.
In 2020, participants to the Brussels IV Conference already acknowledged that Lebanon and its population were facing major challenges stemming from the severe economic and financial crisis, exacerbated by the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. They encouraged the newly formed Government to swiftly enact structural reforms to tackle the acute economic challenges and respond to the needs and expectations of the Lebanese people, indicating they would support the process.
Unfortunately, as of today, very little has been put in place to slowdown the downward spiraling of the country. The continued economic crisis, COVID-19 outbreak, as well as the August Beirut port explosions have led to a further deterioration of the situation – with growing humanitarian needs throughout the country as we recently documented in a Secondary Data Review (SDR) exercise.
Despite the lack of systematic baseline data, available evidence and trend monitoring point towards a severe deterioration in people’s standard of living, whether in terms of their capacity to afford basic commodities and services, or the availability of such services, including food, health, electricity and water supply, solid waste and wastewater management.
Our estimates also show that in addition to the more than 1 million Syrian refugees, almost 900,000 Lebanese individuals need emergency assistance, in addition to 200,000 Palestine refugees and 50,000 migrant and domestic workers.
The rising competition over resources for survival is fueling tensions between individuals and communities and increasing the propensity to violence. Unfortunately, it is also generally eroding the hospitality of host communities towards refugees, as people feel compelled to now prioritize the immediate survival of their own family.
These hardships constitute a fertile ground for renewed attempts to scapegoat refugees for the economic, environmental and other complex problems facing Lebanon, hence intensifying pressure for refugees’ return. This is even more dangerous as the situation has also impacted refugees’ ability to prioritize costs for civil documentation and legal residency, putting them in an even more precarious ‘legal’ situation. Results from the 2020 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (VaSyR), for example, show that only 20% of refugees above 15 years have valid residency permits. Together, we must prevent this vicious cycle from accelerating.
Going forward, it is therefore critical that we reflect on how best we can address immediate humanitarian needs in Lebanon, including specific protection needs of the refugees. Equally important, we must maintain our steady support to national services in the areas of health, education and protection, particularly to schools, Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs) and hospitals as well as social development centers, in order to secure continued and timely provision of basic services to all the people, including the refugees.
In this regard, we should recall that one of the main drivers of tensions in local communities is related to increased pressure on Lebanese infrastructure, public health and other depleted basic services, at a time when more Lebanese are seeking access to public services due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation. This shows the urgency of developing an inclusive social protection system in the country, which should be accessible – in policy and practice – to all populations in need, in accordance with international human rights standards and in line with our core promise to “leave no one behind”.
It is hence more important than ever that the humanitarian, development and peace actors work collaboratively to alleviate human suffering, prevent desperation from turning into violence and create favorable conditions for people to regain their livelihoods and self-reliance. This is certainly a toll order in the current context, but I am convinced that we can rise to this challenge by working together.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our discussions today and tomorrow are crucial as they will feed into the Day of Dialogue and the ministerial session scheduled for next month, ultimately supporting the articulation of strategies and policy outcomes that will help us address evolving challenges. We must continue to build momentum through the Brussel Conferences held in previous years and advance our combined efforts on the ground.
I look forward to hearing your ideas on the way forward.
Let’s have now a fruitful and insightful exchange.