Lebanon pledges hundreds of millions for Syrian refugees at regional conference
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Thursday, April 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman arrived Wednesday in Kuwait to attend a donor conference aimed at collecting funds to help host the rising number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, as Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia pledged $300 million each to help the refugees in the region expected to number one million in mid 2013.
Speaking at the conference, Sleiman called for a speedy solution to the issue of the Syrian refugee influx into the country.
“Lebanon has sought in the past months to provide assistance to the Syrian refugees despite its limited capabilities. However, the country needs help in hosting the refugees,” said Sleiman.
The president said that although the influx of refugees is expected to increase, the government will keep the border open to those seeking shelter in Lebanon.
“The border will remain open to refugees,” said the president.
He also called for the help of Arab countries in hosting refugees along with Lebanon because the country cannot contain all the refugees alone.
“We ask the Arab countries to share the hosting of refugees, not because we want them deported, but after we get the consent of refugees themselves and the Arab countries,” said Sleiman.
Sleiman indicated that the government has approved a $370 million comprehensive plan for the refugees.
He said that $180 will be allocated to Lebanese state institutions while $190 will be distributed over international agencies.
Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah opened an international donors conference with a pledge of $300 million in aid for Syrians around the region.
"Due to the great sufferings of the Syrian people and to help ensure the success of the conference, I announce the Kuwaiti donation of $300 million for the Syrian people," the emir told the conference.
Prior to attending the conference, President Sleiman held a closed meeting with Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the National News Agency said.
The two leaders discussed preparations for the international conference of donors to support the humanitarian situation in Syria, and exchanged views on how to help the Syrian refugees.
Talks also touched on bilateral ties.
The president was accompanied by Deputy PM Samir Moqbel, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour and Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour.
According to Lebanese officials, over 223,000 Syrians have so far sought refuge in Lebanon as a result of the conflict in their home country.
The government has repeatedly appealed for the help of the international community to pay for health, social and education services for the refugees.
The president voiced hope Tuesday that the conference will end with Lebanon being allocated the needed funds and said Lebanon could build refugee camps in order to better monitor and regulate the large number of Syrian refugees in the country.
The conference seeks $1 billion of aid for Syria's neighbors, who are sheltering 700,000 registered refugees, and another $500 million to bankroll humanitarian work for 4 million Syrians inside their country.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was quoted by Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) as saying that the U.N. is getting limited support for its aid to millions of Syrians especially that the crisis in Syria is escalating quickly.
Robert Watkins, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, which has seen the biggest influx of refugees from the Syrian bloodshed, told Reuters that the United Nations had received promises of major donations at the Kuwait conference.
"We have every reason to be optimistic that there will a very good presence and new pledges that will be coming up at this conference," he said.
Watkins said the fact that the conference was being held in Kuwait could encourage other wealthy Gulf Arab states, who have led regional opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, to support the international aid effort.