For the Maronite patriarch the issue of Syrian refugees represents a “real danger”. Fr. Paul: the “great fear” of the Lebanese is that they are “abandoned” while the country is experiencing a situation of profound economic and social crisis. Almost 40% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – The “risk” is that Syrian refugees “will become like Palestinians, abandoned for decades” on Lebanese territory. This “is the great fear” of the majority of the citizens of the land of the Cedars, who “are close to those who need” but, at the same time, “cannot solve all of the problems and are themselves experiencing great suffering,” says Fr. Paul Karam, president of Caritas Lebanon.
For over seven years he has been on the front line in aiding Syrian families fleeing the war. In the past, the priest has repeatedly warned about the danger of a serious economic, political and social crisis for the country.
The words of the Caritas director follow the alarm launched also by the Maronite patriarch, Card Beshara Raï, who, echoing the warning of President Michel Aoun. Both have called the Syrian refugee crisis “a real danger” for Lebanon. “We cannot wait – the prelate said – for a political solution in Syria to launch this process, as the political leaders themselves involved in the destruction caused by the war in Syria would like”.
For the Maronite patriarch and for the Lebanese president it is not possible to link the question of the return of refugees to a political solution to the Syrian crisis, a nation in which war persist and which is still far from a return to political and institutional progress. The refugee emergency (almost two million in the midst of the crisis, compared to a population of 4.4) risks collapsing the entire social and economic system in Lebanon, weighing unsustainably on infrastructure.
Furthermore, analysts and experts fear the risk of an increase in radicalization among those hosted in reception centers in conditions of absolute precariousness. World Bank sources say that the Syrian crisis would have pushed at least 200,000 Lebanese beyond the poverty line, adding to the one million already present.
“The problem – explains Fr. Paul Karam – is that Lebanon is a small country and there is not enough space to accommodate a number of refugees representing about a third of the total population. The situation is very precarious, this economic and social crisis cannot be sustained for long without a collapse ”.
This emergency, adds the President of Caritas Lebanon, touches “the economic, the infrastructural aspect” of a nation that “can no longer bear such a great weight”. Then there is the problem of education: “We – says the priest – have fielded several initiatives for the education of children in refugee camps, but the structures can no longer hold up.”
From the beginning of the crisis, he adds, “little has changed. They have said that some people have returned to Syria, but we also know that they are forced to flee again and cross the border, to return to Lebanon ”. The political problem, he warns, “must be separated from the war, otherwise we risk ending up like the Palestinian refugees who have spent over 60 years” in the country. “The Lebanese population is very generous and has demonstrated this in the service given to refugees and the international community, paying the burden of destruction on their own backs.”
“We need a solution – concludes Fr. Paul – because needs increase as aid gradually decreases over time. The population is becoming impoverished, so much so that almost 40% is below the poverty line and the social and humanitarian damage is enormous ”.