Facing an influx of those fleeing the increasingly bitter conflict in its Syria, Lebanon is set to host a major conference on Syrian refugees in Lebanon in January.
The conference which will be held in Beirut on Jan. 18-20 and dubbed the “First Conference on Syrian Refugees in Lebanon: Issues and Solutions,” was organized by three aid organizations: the Union of Aid Organizations for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, the International Islamic Charitable Commission of Kuwait, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth in Saudi Arabia.
It will be held under the patronage of Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who is set to speak at the event at Hamra’s Coral Suites. Sidon MP Bahia Hariri and Sheikh Ahmad al-Omari, the Secretary General of the Union of Aid Organizations for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon will also address the conference.
The organizers of the conference were prompted by various factors to launch this effort , including poor socioeconomic and health conditions for refugees, the fact that the Higher Relief Commission has ceased providing aid, insufficient medical care and the state’s decision not to establish camps to shelter the refugees.
Some of these concerns are shared by international envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who recently warned that Lebanon may not be able to handle the additional refugees who could flee to the country if the conflict escalates, especially in Damascus.
“If you have a panic in Damascus and if you have 1 million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places – Lebanon and Jordan,” Brahimi said.
There are currently more than 170,000 Syrian refugees who have registered with the U.N. refugee agency in Lebanon, but the actual number is perhaps more than double this according Lebanese Intelligence chief . Several thousand Palestinians have also fled to Lebanon; most are staying in the Palestinian refugee camps.
Kamel Kuzbar, who heads the Sidon branch of the Union of Aid Organizations for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and is helping to organize the conference, said that the Union has no further funds or material aid to distribute. Like Brahimi, he expressed concern over the steady stream of refugees, as fighting spreads and becomes fiercer.
Brahimi said refugees were occupying all possible shelters including buildings that are under construction, and urged the Lebanese government and the U.N. to provide shelter, calling this the “moral and humanitarian right” of the refugees.
Some refugees, especially in the area of Masharih al-Qaa, are staying in tents. Others are staying with family or friends, or are renting apartments. Among the topics to be discussed at the meeting are the increasing cost of housing, a general lack of safety and hygiene in some refuges, and the possibility of using prefabricated housing as temporary shelter.
Several parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, have objected to building camps out of fear that they could host Syrian rebels or serve as a base for smuggling weapons to them.
Sessions have been scheduled on a wide range of topics, including: the geographic distribution of refugees; the need for psychiatric care for women, children, the injured and recently disabled; the unique situation of Palestinian refugees from Syria; why some refugees are being denied entry to hospitals without upfront payment; the role of Arab and Islamic organizations in aid; refugee security; and the role of the World Health Organization and the United Nations.
On the final day, participants will visit a hospital that serves Syrian refugees and a refugee shelter.