BEIRUT (AP) — The United Nations said on Saturday it would suspend a plan to start disbursing aid to Syrian refugees in dollar-stricken Lebanon after Lebanese authorities refused.
Lebanon has been in the grip of a severe financial crisis since 2019, with triple-digit inflation and the national currency having lost more than 98% of its market value. It is estimated that three-quarters of the population now live in poverty, with refugees having been particularly affected. Some 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live below the extreme poverty line, according to a UN assessment.
Since the collapse of the Lebanese currency, UN agencies have been paying for refugee aid in Lebanese pounds.
However, on Wednesday, citing “the rapid depreciation of the pound, the increased fluctuations in the exchange rate and the pressure on the financial service provider to provide large volumes of cash in Lebanese pounds”, the United Nations agency for refugees and the World Food Programme, as well as the UN humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon said they would start giving refugees in Lebanon the option of receiving payments in dollars, rather than Lebanese pounds, with a maximum $125 per family per month.
Prior to the announcement, refugee households received a maximum of £8million a month, worth around $80.
However, on Saturday, UN agencies said that after meetings with the acting Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, and the acting Minister of Social Affairs, Hector Hajjar, “and based on their demands, a decision has been taken to temporarily suspend the use of the dual currency for the next month. providing cash assistance to refugees.
Spokespersons for humanitarian coordinator Imran Riza and UNHCR said aid payments in Lebanese pounds would continue.
Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar told a press conference on Friday that the Lebanese authorities refused to pay Syrian refugees in dollars because it would “force them to stay in Lebanon”. He added that most Syrian refugees in Lebanon are “economic refugees and not refugees who fled for security and political reasons”.
Also on Friday, the World Bank announced that it had approved additional funding of $300 million to provide cash assistance to poor Lebanese families, with some 160,000 households receiving up to $145 a month for 24 months.
Sentiment against Syrian refugees in Lebanon has grown since the onset of the economic crisis and since Syrian government forces took control of much of the neighboring country.
Lebanese authorities now say many Syrian refugees can return home safely. In recent weeks, the Lebanese army has launched a series of raids on refugee camps, arresting and in many cases deporting those without legal residence documents.