The Lebanese government has finally decided not to receive any more Syrian refugees. The announcement was made by the Minister of Social Affairs, Rashid Derbas, who explained "the actions taken by the state to reduce the displacement process".
The most important of these actions is the closure of the border, which is considered the first formal step to stop the increase of the numbers of Syrian refugees, which ranges from between 1.3 and 1.5 million people.
An international expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision reflects a consensus that the government and the host communities in various parts of the country are no longer able to bear the burdens of the vital services needed by the displaced families. The "direct and indirect cost of Syrian refugees on Lebanon reached about 7.5 billion dollars over two years, according to the Central Bank Governor, Riad Salameh.
Some reports mention that the number of displaced Syrians is equivalent to a quarter of the number of Lebanese. The expert added that warnings issued by different parties that the economy will begin to collapse are very serious because the basic dilemma facing Lebanon is inadequate funding.
The pressure on electricity, telecommunications, water, transport, health, housing and education sectors leads to a wearing out of the infrastructure and a decline in services provided by these sectors to the Lebanese people and other foreign residents. In the education sector, for example, the expert revealed that the government was able to provide scholarships for about 80,000 Syrian students out of about 400,000 children of Syrian displaced. The number of Lebanese students is approximately 300,000.
The shortage of international humanitarian aid resulted in additional deterioration to the standard of living of displaced Syrians. In the middle of this year, displaced families and their children were deprived of baskets known as "hygiene kits" and "baby kits". The allocated cash and food per capita was reduced from $30 dollars to $22.
"We do not want to talk about the corruption that has haunted the relationship between the refugees and vendors," said the international expert, "where the first is forced to exchange his coupons with food from the second's shops". He added that corruption is another reason for the "impoverishment of the displaced families".
Lebanese expectations were optimistic ahead of the Berlin conference held to dicuss the situation of Syrians refugees, called for by Western countries.
The business community would like to re-launch the economic activities in the Lebanese market, which slowed because of the increase in refugee numbers. The economic growth rate will fall to 2 percent this year, compared with 5.1 percent last year, while inflation rates and the deficit in public finances will rise, according to the estimates from the International Monetary Fund.
"But Beirut's expectations differed from that of Berlin's", the expert said, "as the Western parties that attended the conference have not made any indication they will change their adopted fiscal policy".
"The aid to be given to Lebanon does not exceed $76 million, while Lebanon needs $5.2 billion to finance the cost of receiving refugees," the expert said.
While waiting for the implementation of Western promises, images of misery and destitution reveals queues of displaced Syrians still filling all the Lebanese urban and rural areas. The last report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) talked about the "vulnerability assessments considering Syrian refugees in Lebanon" and presented a sad image of the social life and living conditions for the displaced families. These international forces must have received the report. Are they going to help the Lebanese government to finance the expenses of hosting the Syrian refugees?
Bribery on the border
After the government's decision to close the border, the Minister of Social Affairs, Rashid Derbas, said that "each person who crosses the Syrian-Lebanese border should explain the purpose of his visit". If he is a refugee, he must prove a humanitarian reason to allow him to enter, and "the decision to receive him or not is to be decided by the Ministries of Interior and Social Affairs".
Syrian passengers who arrived in Beirut recently revealed that some drivers ask for between $400 and $500 dollars from any person who wants to avoid the "displacement procedures" set by the government.
The most generous stakeholder at Berlin conference was Germany. It is reported that Germany allocated $57 million to help Lebanon over three years, but without a clear mechanism to collect these funds. The U.S. has announced the allocation of $10 million to Lebanon and Jordan together. The Netherlands, meanwhile, has decided to provide $5 million, and Sweden $8.5 million to be handed over to the trust fund managed by the World Bank.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer