Thousands of Syrians entered Lebanon last week to escape the ongoing violence in their country, and the Lebanese government is seeking help from Arab and international agencies to provide them with aid, government officials said.
There are 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
As the refugees began arriving, Lebanon's Ministry of Social Affairs announced that vacant public schools in the Bekaa and Mount Lebanon regions would be opened to absorb their influx, based on a list prepared by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abu Faour told al-Shorfa the Lebanese government is "conducting a campaign to contact Arab and international donors requesting assistance for the Lebanese government to carry out its duties and provide relief to displaced Syrians, as has happened with other Arab countries".
Abu Faour said funds currently being used to help the refugees did not originate from the government’s treasury, but from international organisations, including the UNHCR, the Danish Refugee Council, and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
Lebanon is "able to raise large sums of money to ease the burden on the government and enable it to fulfil its duty", he said. "Lebanon has a humanitarian and moral duty to provide aid and relief to the displaced."
Abu Faour said government ministers are scheduled to meet in the coming days to develop a joint action plan that will define specific roles regarding provision of aid and "allow us to provide the necessary assistance and relief to refugees".
Until that plan is adopted, relief agencies are aiding the refugees, led by the UNHCR, which is providing health care for 85% of them, according to Dana Suleiman, a UNHCR spokeswoman.
Suleiman said 18,000 Syrian refugees entered Lebanon last week alone, not counting those who checked into hotels or rented furnished apartments.
Suleiman said the UNHCR was unable to reach all of those that entered Lebanon. "We are working to absorb this wave of refugees and prepare in anticipation of the next one," she said.
The UNHCR is working in partnership with the European Union, the Danish Refugee Council, and the Japanese, German, French, and Swiss governments, and Lebanese ministries, Suleiman said. Meanwhile, employees from the Ministry of Social Affairs tour the sites sheltering refugees to assess their conditions so the ministry and the UNHCR can take the necessary action.
The WFP issued food vouchers on July 1st to 6,000 Syrians in the Bekaa Valley and continues to provide food assistance to all Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including 24,000 in the north, West Bekaa, Zahle, Baalbek, and Hermel, according to WFP media consultant Laure Shidrawi.
"The number of refugees who receive WFP assistance increases as the number of registered people rises," Shidrawi said.
Shidrawi said about 15,000 refugees in the north are receiving family food baskets until a voucher programme begins in the next two months in Akkar and Tripoli. The WFP will allow voucher recipients to purchase food, grain, meat and baby food.
"The WFP currently helps newly arrived refugees by providing them with family food baskets. They start receiving vouchers upon registering with the UNHCR and receiving their registration cards," she said.
Shidrawi said the WFP "and its partners assess the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including new arrivals, to identify the best possible way to provide them with food aid, especially since the Lebanese government and local communities, like their counterparts in other countries, are making a great effort to accommodate large numbers of them".
Al-Marj mayor Imad Shammouri said the West Bekaa town is hosting 30 families in its school and 40 in Beirut.
"In the absence of state aid, we are working to provide them with food and water and are contacting donors for assistance, which is more readily granted during Ramadan in the form of zakat," Shammouri said. Naji al-Meiss, the mayor of Bar Elias in the Bekaa Valley, told Al-Shorfa the town is hosting 180 families, who were distributed among residents' homes.
Al-Meiss added, "Their living conditions are miserable, and we are counting on international and local organisations to provide them with aid, especially since the people of the Bekaa are not in better shape themselves."