After four years of work, stakeholders are now approaching the “stabilization” phase of the crisis. George Aida, director of Social Development at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Kamel Kosbar, president of the Sidon Syria Relief Union, Haneen Al Sayyed, coordinator at the World Bank Human Development Program, and Mazen Ezzi, editor of Al Modon newspaper, discussed the complex issues arising from Lebanon’s hosting of Syrian refugees. Maha Shuayb, director of the Center for Lebanese Studies, moderated the session.
Welfare Obligations and Aid Provision
- Need for Coordination: Participants stressed the need for greater cooperation and coordination between various stakeholders including, but not limited to, the public and private sectors, civil society organizations, NGOs, and donor bodies, in order to better fulfil welfare obligations to Syrian refugees.
- Creating Opportunities: Given the increased risk of radicalization among marginalized groups, programs at the Ministry of Social Affairs aim to turn the negative repercussions of the conflict into positive opportunities, explained Aida. They have taken actions to create the opportunities, such as setting up a database to match employers with young refugees skilled in the suitable area, as well as social activities, seminars, and trainings to adequately prepare those who will take part in Syria’s reconstruction for the challenges they will likely face.
- Economic Impact: At the request of the government, the World Bank prepared a report assessing the economic impact of the crisis. The report concluded that the Lebanese economy had lost $7.5 billion and the number of those suffering from poverty increased by 200,000), explained Sayyed. She added that the Lebanese economy was already in a fairly dire state before the crisis erupted, with unemployment as high as 34 percent.
- Overcoming Difficulties: Sayyed also mentioned the difficulty of handling a 30 percent increase in population. She commended civil society organizations and NGOs for their performance given the difficulties they face but noted the underlying lack of coordination still impedes progress. She also stressed the importance of establishing a sustainable, rather than ad hoc, system of aid provision and resolving structural issues in the Lebanese labor market relating to low and semi skilled workers’ unemployment.
- Refugee Restrictions: Mazen said that regulations and restrictions on refugee entry have led to large numbers of Syrians entering Lebanon illegally. This has the potential to reduce the mobility of all Syrian refugees within Lebanon. Refugees are often subject to arbitrary arrests or accusations of being Islamic State sympathisers, which can encourage refugees to join Islamist and extremist brigades despite their own weak religious sentiment.
Education and Services
- Need for Education: Shuayb explored the problems arising from insufficient coordination between the public and private sectors especially regarding education. Although “private” institutions initially stepped in to plug the gaps in state provided education, this has been scaled back due to reduced funding and program saturation. The public sector now has to take the reins once more but faces additional pressure both in terms of costs and enrolment numbers, explained Shuayb.
- Challenges: Shuayb also detailed a number of factors that are negatively influencing the operations of the public sector and Lebanese NGOs, including the lack of a response strategy and development plan, poor monitoring mechanisms, scarcity of funds, and missed financing opportunities, along with sometimes restrictive regulations and donor policies. In response to these challenges, the UN established a coordination body, hosted by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, for reporting and tracking purposes, as well as defining non-formal education, added Shuayb.
- Private Sector Role: Historically, civil society organizations and the private sector played a leading role in providing relief at times of crisis in Lebanon, Kosbar saidThis latest crisis is no different. He added that his organization has established a comprehensive database of every family living in Sidon and supports 9,000 of them. However, the inability of the private sector to absorb large numbers of new students has led to negative repercussions on the Lebanese population as well, he said. This vacuum eventually leads young students to radicalize.