BEIRUT (AP) — The head of the U.N. refugee agency says it’s time for the international community to show solidarity with the Lebanese people by offering assistance to a country that has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees for decades.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi also said the UNHCR is making its capacity and expertise as a humanitarian agency available to the Lebanese people and is ready to assist the country as part of a broader international response.
Lebanon has been going through multiple crises, including widespread corruption, political divisions and economic difficulties, and Grandi said the international community should find long-term interventions to assist.
“All of this is a bigger package than the humanitarian package, and this package needs to be addressed by the international community,” he told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday night.
Grandi, on his first official mission since March, when lockdowns were imposed in Europe due to the pandemic, is visiting Lebanon two weeks after a catastrophic explosion at the Port of Beirut destroyed a large part of its capital Beirut.
The Aug. 4 blast killed a least 180 people, injured about 6,000 and left nearly 300,000 people with major damage to their homes. It was the most destructive single incident in Lebanon’s history, leaving losses worth between $10 and $15 billion.
There are 30 still missing after the explosion. Among those killed were 43 Syrians — a reflection of the country being host to the largest number of refugees per capita — and Grandi said some refugees are among those still missing.
More than 1 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, having fled the war next door.
Grandi, who toured the site of the explosion on Wednesday, also said he is very concerned about the impact of Lebanon’s worsening economic crisis on Syrian and other refugees in the country.
“The time has come to also show the Lebanese when they are in the hour of need that the international community responds,” he said.
The tiny country now faces a surge in new coronavirus cases, made worse in the aftermath of the explosion, which knocked several Beirut hospitals out of service, including two who were hosting patients with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
Grandi said so far the number of refugees who have tested positive for the virus is relatively small.
“Where we are worried, and we are worried in Lebanon as well, is the economic impact, because as we know the lockdowns have created a lot of new poverty among the most vulnerable in society” he said.
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