The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri said that the impact of the displaced crisis on Lebanon is becoming increasingly acute, adding that Lebanon and the international community should work together and intensify our efforts to ensure that critical humanitarian assistance is delivered as well and the financing of livelihood development projects to improve the living standards of both the displaced and the host communities.
In a speech during the opening session of Supporting the future of Syria and the region - Brussels III conference, Hariri defined the priorities as follows: Ensure adequate funding for the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, secure multi-year commitments, increase the support provided to host communities and support and develop the social protection systems in Lebanon.
He stressed that the only solution to the Syrian displaced crisis is their safe return to their home country, in accordance with international laws and treaties, and reiterated the government's commitment to working with UNHCR on any pragmatic initiative that ensures the safe return of the displaced Syrians, including the Russian initiative.
The others speakers at the opening session were: Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations (by video message), Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Turkish Republic and Ayman H. Safadi, Minister for Foreign and Expatriate Affairs of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
This is Hariri's speech:
The tragedy and suffering of the Syrian people continue for the ninth year.
Over the past year, in spite of the tremendous challenges we continued to face, and at a time when the capacities of the host communities and government infrastructure and services are overstretched and exhausted, my country upheld the commitments made at the Brussels II conference. This was possible due to the extraordinary and combined efforts of the international community, the Lebanese public institutions, civil society, and the exceptional hospitality and generosity of the Lebanese people.
We have achieved this while continuing to safeguard Lebanon's delicate political, social, and economic stability.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The government of Lebanon is grateful for both the European Union and the United Nations for convening the Brussels III conference, to stress that host countries should not be forgotten in the midst of the protracted Syrian conflict.
Lebanon continues to face mounting economic and social challenges. Growth remains dismal at barely 1%, unemployment and poverty levels remain high, and the public finance situation is under severe strain.
At the CEDRE conference, the Lebanese government submitted a vision for the medium to long term to deal with these challenges. The international community responded positively and mobilized significant resources to help put this vision on the right track for execution. My government is fully aware of the need to move forward with fiscal, structural and sectoral reforms to jumpstart the economy, create jobs, and improve the deficit and debt ratios. Indeed, my government will have to take difficult decisions in the coming weeks to reduce spending. Therefore, very clearly and frankly, there will be no additional funding allocated in the 2019 budget, nor in subsequent budgets, to address the humanitarian needs of the displaced.
Meanwhile, the impact of the displaced crisis on Lebanon is becoming increasingly acute, thereby exacerbating, over the short term, the existing economic and social challenges.
The needs remain substantial and the competition over scarce resources and jobs has put the relationship between host communities and the displaced under severe tensions. These conditions could lead to widespread discontent and elevate the risk of violence, thus threatening Lebanon's stability and giving an incentive to the displaced to seek refuge elsewhere. There is no room for complacency or donor fatigue. We should rather work together and intensify our efforts to ensure that critical humanitarian assistance is delivered and the financing of livelihood development projects to improve the living standards of both the displaced and the host communities.
To achieve this, we all need to focus on the following priorities going forward:
First, ensure adequate funding for the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan. Our appeal for 2019 is about 2.6 billion US dollars. In 2018, donor contributions to our plan amounted to 1.2 billion US dollars, representing around 45% of the original 2.7 billion dollars appeal.
Second, multi-year commitments should be secured in order to ensure the sustainability of multi-year projects such as Reaching All Children with Education (RACE II), as well as mitigate the impact of adverse factors. In fact, this winter, Lebanon witnessed severe weather conditions and recurrent storms that have worsened conditions for more than 540 thousand Syrian displaced and tens of thousands of Lebanese in host communities. Lebanon is committed to reduce vulnerability for both hosting and displaced populations. Today, more than ever, there is an urgent need to shift our focus from disaster and crisis management and response to long-term investments in crisis and disaster risk reduction to safeguard lives, enhance resilience and development.
Third, increase the support provided to host communities by at least 100 million dollars per year to finance small projects in infrastructure, especially in the field of water and solid waste management, since they have direct impact on the environment and public health. Equally important, is the support to small and medium-sized enterprises, especially in productive sectors, as well as the empowerment of women and the implementation of municipal development projects.
Fourth, support and develop the social protection systems in Lebanon, in particular to expand the scope of the National Poverty Targeting Program (NPTP). In this connection, we highly appreciate the continued commitment of the World Bank and the World Food Program (WFP) to the NPTP.
We are also grateful for the German government and the European Union who responded to Lebanon's appeal at the Brussels II conference and pledged contributions to the program to support the poorest Lebanese families hosting the displaced. Our ultimate objective is to secure food for all families living below the extreme poverty line, which is estimated to be around 44,000 Lebanese families, as well as increasing support for the component of graduation from poverty, which allows these families to secure their needs through vocational and technical training and employment opportunities. To achieve this we need to secure grant contributions of 100 million dollars per year.
Fifth, support the National Strategic Framework for Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) that was developed by the Government of Lebanon with the support of UNICEF and the International Labor Organization to enhance the skills of the Lebanese workforce.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the midst of all the challenges facing Lebanon and the region, we should not forget that the only solution to the Syrian displaced crisis is the safe return of the displaced to their home country, in accordance with international laws and treaties.
In this connection, I would like to reiterate that my government remains committed to working with UNHCR on any pragmatic initiative that ensures the safe return of the displaced Syrians, including the Russian initiative. We have no other option but to join hands and work together to address the obstacles and challenges facing the return of the displaced. This is a daunting task and a collective responsibility, and we all need to be innovative in finding solutions. Lebanon cannot continue to bare the economic, social, and environmental impact of hosting one and a half million displaced.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my deep appreciation and the appreciation of the Lebanese Government to all international partners, governments and civil society representatives for their solid partnership and continuous support to help Lebanon deal with the challenges associated with the severe, protracted and unprecedented Syrians displaced crisis.
Upon his arrival to the conference hall, Premier Hariri had expressed his hope to find solutions and an end to the tragedy of the Syrian displacement, and called on friends and allies to put pressure on the regime in Syria for the return of the displaced.
Asked why you don't exploit the fact that you are one of the countries that host the largest number of Syrian displaced to receive adequate funds, Premier Hariri said: Lebanon is doing its humanitarian duty. We would like to see an end to the issue of the displaced in Lebanon, because it represents a big burden on Lebanon and all the Lebanese. We wish to come to the European Union to discuss the end of the Syrian displacement in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. The problem exists, and solutions must be found for the return of the displaced.
Asked about his opinion on the resumption of relations with the Syrian regime and the return of Syria to the Arab League, he answered: This is a decision to be taken by the Arab League and Lebanon will be accompanying this decision. For us, this decision is not linked to Lebanon but to the Arab League.
Question: It was said that the pledges made in 2018 have not all reached Lebanon. Is there a commitment from the international community to pay the due amounts?
Hariri: The international community must know that Lebanon can no longer continue the way it used to. The international community has to pay the amounts that we asked for, it is not a luxury, it is because of the large Syrian displacement in our country, which is estimated at around one and a half million displaced. This issue should be dealt with responsibly.
Question: Do you think there will be Brussels IV and V?
Hariri: We hope there will not be Brussels 4, 5 and 6. We hope that things will end in Syria and that all the displaced will return. We believe that the most important solution to displacement is the return. Therefore, all friends and allies must put pressure on the regime in Syria so that the displaced return. It is not normal to have 10 million displaced people outside Syria.
Question: What about the Russian initiative? Does it still exist?
Hariri: We will continue with it.
For his part, the Minister of Education Akram Chehayeb responded to the questions of journalists. He said: We are here in the delegation with Prime Minister Hariri, and the host community in Lebanon is large and needs support. There is a three-year plan and we seek to improve productivity at all levels. We hope the donor countries will help Lebanon, which has suffered and is still suffering from the displacement, and therefore deserves all support at this stage.
There are 215,000 Syrian students studying in Lebanon in public schools, 60,000 in private schools, and there are special programs for those who have not yet attended school for all children and those under the age of 18. We have great hope for this support, and we hope to reach results in the near future.
Asked about the needed funding, Chehayeb said: There is a gap of $28 million from last year, and we hope to have more support in the future so that we can continue with good education.
Source: National News Agency