Lebanon is facing new challenges as it enters its 11th year since the start of the Syrian crisis.
Political efforts to encourage donor countries to facilitate the voluntary return of Syrians have failed and there’s a hostile atmosphere towards returning by these countries.
As a result, Lebanon will now organize the work of international organizations operating in Syrian refugee camps to ensure that these services do not become a motive for refugees to permanently stay in Lebanon.
According to a plan set by the Ministry of Social Affairs and in coordination with Army Intelligence, no organization is allowed to enter a refugee camp without seeking approval from the concerned governor and the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The ministry will only grant approval if the project is considered just and fair – meaning that it benefits both the Lebanese and Syrians, not just Syrians.
The number of Syrian refugees has peaked to 2 million and recent estimates put it at 1.5 million. This doesn’t account for the estimated 600,000 Palestinian refugees and 100,000 Iraqi refugees.
Lebanon’s population is estimated at 5 million – which means refugees represent an equivalent of 50% of the Lebanese population.
The Lebanese government is concerned about the possibility of a situation in which Syrians are kept in Lebanon permanently, a rapidly growing concern within the Lebanese population.
It believes this could happen if aid is concentrated in host towns that receive the highest number of displaced people, particularly in Akkar and the Bekaa Valley.
In response, a map is being prepared that defines the scope of work of service centers to ensure that aid is distributed evenly across regions.
The Ministry of Social Affairs will not allow large amounts of aid but will provide the minimum necessary for humanitarian needs.
On the educational front, the Ministry of Social Affairs stopped a project to integrate Syrian students into Lebanese schools.
This project was proposed in exchange for support for private schools and semi-free schools, as well as for students at risk of dropping out.
Diplomatic efforts to organize the return of Syrians are ongoing, including through the US Secretary of State and an upcoming meeting in Qatar of ministers of social affairs in the Middle East.