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Whilst negotiations on the use of chemical weapons are in the spotlight of the media, the Syrian people, the millions of refugees and the neighbouring countries who are taking them in en masse, watch as their futures wither away. In Lebanon, the absorptive capacity of the country is being tested, and gaps are felt in all sectors such as healthcare, education and employment. The international community must provide better support for the host countries, notably by accepting new contingents of refugees and by giving direct financial aid, as the High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) proposes.
The conflict in Syria – now raging for more than two years – shows no sign of lessening, and the flood of civilians fleeing to neighbouring countries is constantly on the rise. The situation has passed the critical level in many of the host countries, Lebanon for one, and international aid is still insufficient: of the 4.4 million dollars sought to assist the refugees, only half has been raised to date.
Lebanon: a situation increasingly difficult to maintain
With over 750,000 officially registered refugees, and an estimated one million Syrians in all, taking the refugees in and integrating them in Lebanon is becoming harder and harder. For this country, with fewer than 4.5 million inhabitants of its own, the impact of this influx is heavy. Public services are overwhelmed and the living conditions of the refugees give cause for concern: squalor, insecurity and a lack of medical treatment make up the daily life of many families.
The job market is equally hard hit: according to World Bank forecasts, the unemployment rate could reach 20% by 2014, double what it was at the beginning of the war. There is fierce competition between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees for every job, creating considerable social tension.
Child labour amongst the refugees is also a source of worry. An increasing number of children have been observed who are forced to go to work, especially in the fields, to provide a meagre income for their family’s survival, as can be seen in a BBC report.
Active support for the host countries
For the UNHCR, the burden weighing on the bordering countries is far too heavy for them to carry alone. As António Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees, says, “Some of the countries affected are in need of direct support for their budgets. Many host countries require massive long-term investment, since the challenges currently facing them can only continue to intensify.” An increase in humanitarian aid does not represent an adequate response. The solution should henceforth include direct and sizeable financial aid to the host countries.
Appeal to the European Community
In view of this situation, the International Federation of Terre des hommes, of which our Foundation is a member, launched an appeal on September 8th, 2013, to urge the European Union to increase humanitarian aid substantially and to extend the capacity for reception of its member states for victims of the war in Syria.
We should not forget that Switzerland is also committed to hosting a contingent of 500 Syrian refugees for a three-year period. A programme for integration, worth 12 million Swiss francs, will be set up.