With around 1.5 million refugees fleeing to Lebanon since the start of the war in Syria, it is clear that the situation in the country is untenable and that substantial help is needed to avoid a complete breakdown, not only in terms of financial assistance, but also through improved resettlement tools, says Civil Liberties Committee Chair Claude Moraes, who this week headed a delegation to Beirut.
Lebanon is currently the country in the world with the highest number of refugees per capita: around one in four living on its territory is a refugee. Against this backdrop, a 7-strong delegation from the Civil Liberties Committee this week visited Lebanon to look into the situation for refugees on the ground.
"It is clear that Lebanon is reaching a saturation point", says Claude Moraes (S&D, UK). "Vital infrastructure all over the country, such as education and sanitation, is heavily affected by the influx of refugees which means that this is not just a refugee crisis, but one that affects the country overall and which could rapidly deteriorate. Lebanon has far surpassed the efforts of the EU in its response to the crisis and has coped remarkably well under very difficult circumstances. Humanitarian aid from the EU and others is highly needed to alleviate the unprecedented pressure the country is experiencing.
Poverty among the Syrian refugees is alarming and efficient policies on education and health care are more needed than ever. People are living under appalling conditions, in overcrowded apartments shared by several families in order to afford the rent or even in basement car parks, with no water, toilets or electricity. The issue of a $200 fee for residence permits has been mentioned as a reason for many to be staying illegally in the country which might make them vulnerable to exploitation in the labour market and elsewhere.
Conditions are also difficult for the Palestinians who experience restrictions on access to employment which makes them dependent on services from UN's agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA.
The situation cannot be solved by humanitarian aid alone. It calls for political solutions to put an end to the ongoing conflict and consequently take some of the pressure off the country. However, we do not consider returning the Syrians to safe zones within Syria safe at this point, and we are very concerned that lives could be lost if it were to happen.
We need member states to urgently uphold their humanitarian responsibilities and we need to ensure a better, more even distribution of refugees among the EU countries. In the coming months, the Civil Liberties Committee will take on the task of ensuring a better functioning resettlement system to coordinate and step up efforts of the EU in this field. There is an urgent need for the EU to adopt legislative tools that actually work and can contribute to alleviate the demographic pressure on countries such as Lebanon and prevent further destabilisation in the region."
The 7 members of the Civil Liberties Committee visited Lebanon from 19-22 September to look into the situation for refugees on the ground, both for the estimated 1.5 million Syrians who have arrived in Lebanon since the beginning of the war in Syria and for the 300,000-400,000 Palestinians who have been in the country for decades. The findings of the mission will feed into the ongoing work of the committee, in particular on a new EU resettlement framework (legislative proposal presented by the European Commission on 13 July), on relocation as well as the overall overhaul of EU asylum policies, including the Dublin rules.