The explosion in the port of Beirut on 4 August 2020 was the last in a series of misfortunes to befall Lebanon’s population. The disaster came at a time of political and economic turmoil, with the financial crisis compounded by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Syrian refugees make up more than 20% of Lebanon’s population, the highest refugees-to-population ratio in the world. A growing number of Lebanese and refugees is increasingly vulnerable and destitute. Hours after the blast, EU Civil Protection teams and supplies arrived in Beirut while the EU also maintains its humanitarian aid in the country.
What are the needs?
The dire situation resulting from the political impasse and socio-economic crisis, further exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak and port blast, continues to reduce people’s purchasing power. Lebanese and refugees are increasingly struggling to buy food, pay rent and access health care, with high inflation and stark currency devaluation worsening the situation. The Beirut blast left 200 people dead and over 7,500 injured. Areas close to the port still in need of repairs are among the capital’s poorest, housing vulnerable Lebanese, migrants and refugees.
Unfavourable to integration, Lebanon has not wanted to establish formal camps for Syrian refugees. This has forced many families into inferior accommodation, exposed to harsh weather conditions. Before the coronavirus outbreak, half of all refugee families were surviving daily on less than $2.9 per person, and 58% of their school-aged children were out of school. Recent findings show that 9 out of 10 Syrian refugee families in Lebanon now live in extreme poverty, up from 55% only a year before. Some 92% of households are in debt, the overall level of which keeps rising.
According to a UN survey, 8 in 10 elderly, disabled or chronically ill refugees have had to reduce food intake during recent lockdowns triggered by COVID-19. With 69% of households having no members with legal residency, many Syrian refugees do not have legal documentation, which restricts their freedom of movement and access to basic services and employment. With evictions on the rise, refugees are increasingly considering a return to Syria where the conflict has entered its 10th year.
How are we helping?
Since 2011, the European Union has provided more than €716 million in humanitarian funding to respond to urgent needs. The funding has mostly helped vulnerable Syrian refugees, but increasingly also the Lebanese population impacted by the socio-economic meltdown, the pandemic, and the Beirut blasts.
Immediately after the explosions on 4 August, the EU deployed close to 300 European search and rescue, chemical, structural engineering and medical personnel to Beirut through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. More than 1,000 tonnes of aid from European countries were delivered via the mechanism, including over 2,000 chemical protection suits, 50 tonnes of medical equipment, medical and surgical supplies and food items. The EU also organised a humanitarian air bridge with flights and supplies from Europe.
In the days and weeks following the port explosions, EU humanitarian partners in Lebanon engaged in first aid and ambulance services while some dispatched 'quick fix teams' to repair damaged homes. The EU mobilised €32.2 million to help vulnerable Lebanese and Syrians impacted by the blasts, bringing the total EU humanitarian aid to €83.2 million in 2020. The aid went to the rehabilitation of homes, cash to help pay for rent and other essentials, protective support such as legal assistance and help with documentation. In March 2021, the EU announced an additional €50 million during the Brussels V Conference for Syria. This is part of the regional funding to support the needs of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees across the region.
EU humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees is mostly provided in the form of multi-purpose cash assistance. The remainder goes to addressing emergencies, protection and education needs. Cash assistance reduces vulnerability in the face of socio-economic hardship and protection concerns such as evictions and exploitation. In 2020, 375,000 people benefitted from this type of aid, mostly using the money to cover essential needs such as food, shelter and healthcare. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the EU has further scaled up cash assistance to the most vulnerable refugees.
Rapid response teams have been trained to provide humanitarian aid in tented settlements in case of an outbreak. Partners continue to ensure access to safe water and sanitation, disinfection products, and healthcare while observing strict infection, prevention, and control measures.
In 2020, more than 500,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon were assisted through EU-supported protection services. In 2021, this shall continue to be a priority given increasing reports of violence, abuse and exploitation of minors. EU humanitarian aid also helps to ensure access to education for thousands of out-of-school Syrian children, facilitating their transition into formal education. The pandemic has prompted education partners to find creative new ways to engage with the children, using messaging, new technologies and distance learning.