A senior United Nations official Tuesday praised efforts made by the Lebanese Government to help Syrian refugees who have fled the violence in their country, while noting that as the winter approaches, more will need to be done to ensure the population's well-being.
"Let me say how impressed I have been by the generosity and hospitality that the Lebanese communities in Akkar continue to extend to the Syrian refugees, twenty months after the breakout of the crisis," the UN Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Robert Watkins, said in a press conference in the Akkar district in the north of the country.
"Despite the many challenges they themselves face, Lebanese families are still hosting and supporting around 30 per cent of the Syrian refugee population," he added.
Syria has been wracked by violence, with at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. The violence has spawned more than 380,000 refugees, with some 125,000 currently in Lebanon.
During his visit, Watkins visited the area of Wadi Khaled, on the border with Syria, to examine the impact of the Syrian crisis on different Lebanese communities, as well as a local centre of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Qobayat, where he was updated on the assistance extended to thousands of displaced Syrians.
"I welcome the commitment and efforts of the Lebanese authorities and communities in the Akkar to address the ever increasing needs of both refugees and local populations," Watkins said.
"It is clear, however," he continued, "that as we are at the beginning of the winter season, and there is every likelihood that even more refugees will be arriving over the coming months, it is crucial that we act together quickly to ensure the health and safety of both refugee and local Lebanese populations."
Watkins, who met with Lebanese officials in the city of Tripoli yesterday, added that there are many Lebanese families who have been forced to leave their homes in the border areas inside Lebanon because of cross-border shelling and other security-related incidents along the border. "Their lives have been disrupted, especially farmers who can no longer tend their fields," he said.
UN agencies and other local and international non-governmental organizations are assisting these Lebanese families to meet their immediate needs, but also with a longer-term objective of promoting development in the area, which has been strained by the crisis, he noted.
In addition to projects undertaken by UNHCR, more than $250,000 has been earmarked by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for some 16 development projects in collaboration with local communities and authorities in Akkar.
"These projects aim at addressing the priority needs for the Akkar, including the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector and infrastructure, boosting the educational sector, and promoting a culture of peaceful coexistence, particularly in schools or areas where there are both Lebanese and Syrians living together," Watkins said.