UNHCR head vows to ease difficult refugee conditions

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Guterres listens to a Syrian refugee woman during his visit in Ketermaya. (REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)

BEIRUT: The head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees kicked off a two-day visit to Lebanon by visiting Syrian families in the Chouf town of Ketermaya, pledging to ease their difficult living conditions.

Antonio Guterres also met with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, and Ramzi Naaman, who heads the government's refugee response plan, the National News Agency said.

Guterres’ visit came at the same time that police expelled a number of refugee families from their temporary shelters near a national park in the Tyre area. The expelled refugees were aided by the U.N. and local organizations to find new accommodations.

Lebanon is hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees in the region. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is aiding nearly 350,000 refugees in the country, and the government, the U.N. and other aid organizations say the relief efforts are grossly underfunded. Hundreds of millions of dollars of aid pledges by the international community have not been delivered, and Prime Minister Najib Mikati has recently called for Arab nations to do more to assist the refugees.

Many refugees are not registered with the U.N. as the registration process itself takes months to complete. Cabinet officials have suggested setting up camps to speed up registration and aid, but little progress has been made in that regard. Currently refugees are spread out in almost every part of the country.

During his field visit, Guterres highlighted the hardship of Syrian refugees and the large number of refugees Lebanon has been accommodating, including Palestinians who have been here for decades, the NNA reported. Guterres said he hoped Syrians would be able to return to their country soon.

“The situation in Lebanon is difficult but we are working with the Lebanese government to help you,” Guterres said.

Naaman also called for refugees to confirm their official status as refugees with security authorities, who have been trying to accommodate the backlog and deal with the many people whose visas have expired.

Guterres is scheduled to hold a news conference Friday and then tour refugee areas in Tripoli and Mina.

The Daily Star - Lebanon