As Lebanon Implements Restrictions on Syrian Refugees, U.S. Must Supplement Generous Aid with Robust Leadership on Resettlement
As Lebanon places new restrictions on Syrian refugees, Secretary Kerry has announced that the United States will provide another $290 million of humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Syrian conflict, both in Syria and in neighboring countries hosting refugees, including $51 million to support Lebanon as a host community. This brings U.S. humanitarian assistance for refugees of the Syria conflict and their host countries to over $2 billion, and assistance for Lebanon to about $400 million.
This is a praiseworthy response to Lebanon’s precarious situation. What’s more, Secretary Kerry acknowledges the unique nature of the refugee crisis in Lebanon (with refugees spread throughout 1,600 communities in Lebanon and no official camps) and recognizes that even this additional humanitarian aid “is not enough”:
Let me be clear: There is still an enormous need on the ground that is not being met, and I’m not going to stand up here and pretend that the two billion or the money we’re giving today is enough. Also for those refugees, just being supported in a refugee camp is not enough. It doesn’t change their lives, it doesn’t end the war, it doesn’t speak to their day-to-day sense of loss and abandonment, and it certainly doesn’t provide them with the long-term security and opportunity that they deserve.
In Secretary Kerry’s view, the main U.S. response to the Syria crisis, in addition to humanitarian aid, has been “to push for a political solution, which is the only real solution to this conflict.” While a political solution is, of course, the ultimate goal, and while the United States should certainly be doing everything possible to bring about such a solution, there is much more that the United States could do to aid Syrian refugees and to provide some relief for Lebanon: it could make a firm commitment to resettle significant numbers of Syrian refugees, starting with 15,000 and increasing this number in the coming year.
Lebanon has done more than perhaps any other nation to welcome Syrian refugees. Now, it feels it can do no more. As the United States urges Lebanon to keep its borders open to refugees fleeing Syria, it should open its own borders to some of Syria’s vulnerable refugees. As the global leader in resettling refugees, the United States should launch an initiative to resettle some Syrian refugees, which would encourage other states to step up their commitments.
A serious resettlement initiative would offer a new start to some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees and would help take some of the pressure off countries like Lebanon. As Secretary Kerry reminded us last week, “a secure and stable Lebanon is a prerequisite for a secure and stable region.” Strategic interests and moral imperatives combine to make the immediate resettlement of Syrian refugees an urgent necessity and a vital component of America’s response to the crisis in Syria.