Interviewed by Mona Sukkariah
Translated by Daisy Khalil
NNA - Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas in an interview with the National News Agency considered the word "Catastrophe" as a major understatement in describing the conditions of displaced Syrians in Lebanon.
"They have become the new Arab exodus after Palestine's Nakba back in 1948," he said.
"It is true that the Palestinian exodus included larger geographic areas, but Lebanon has received about 400 thousand or half a million displaced people from Palestine. However, we have welcomed from Syria, in two years, about one and a half million displaced people, one million two hundred thousand of them officially registered at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees offices. This flow entered a country with a non-coherent community both politically and socially. They came to a country with seriously impaired institutions and with a political class that seems incapable of electing a President of the Republic," the minister said regrettably.
"Economically speaking, growth is at about 0% or 1% to be optimistic, yet the most serious problem remains terrorism which keeps targeting the country," he went on.
With regard to the economic impact, Derbas said the flow of displaced Syrians caused major economic losses exceeding $7.5 billion; this figure represents the drop from 8 to 4% of growth.
"Unemployment has reached 14% in Lebanon due to the employment of Syrian brothers. (...) Camps constitute only 17 to 18% of the number of displaced. The rest are widespread across the Lebanese territory in apartments or incomplete construction spaces and they certainly survive below the limit of decent living," he explained.
Derbas pointed out that the "Friends of Lebanon Conference approved what donor countries must give to Lebanon as assistance in this crisis, but the fund remains empty up till now."
Tackling the social conditions, the Minister listed the major outcomes of such flow, shedding light on the cheaper Syrian labor force, the chaos in housing and the towering crisis of electricity and water shortage, in addition to the major problems of sanitation.
On the subject of education, he said "we welcomed in our public schools more than 100 thousand Syrian students over the capacity of these schools which lack the necessary maintenance. Chaos prevailed over this sector, which prompted the Minister of Education to act instead of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees."
"But despite the presence of 100 thousand Syrian students in schools, more than 250 thousand of them are still not getting any education which increases the concern at the level of security," he continued.
"What happened in Arsal is a sample of what could come about. The town and its generous people were neglected and mistreated by the State. Having hosted over 90 thousand displaced Syrians next to a population of 35 thousand would have certainly led to a demographic change."
"Those inhuman attackers are nothing but electronic monsters. They have been organized and given this role, and they will be banished soon because those who created them wanted them to be nothing but a spearhead to change the situation."
He continued: "I dwell too much on the interview by journalist Thomas Friedman with President Obama whereby he said if I had hit the ISIS before Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had stepped down, he wouldn't have. If I had encouraged the Syrian opposition doctors and school teachers against a strong army supported by Iran and Hezbollah they wouldn't have taken any action."
Derbas also criticized the words of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem who demanded coordination in the event of an aggression against Syria. "This means he agrees to any aggression. Is this a slip of the tongue or what? Didn't the Syrians accuse Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding these sides?" he wondered.
Worried about what will come next, Derbas confirmed that "the overwhelming political chaos in the Arab world puts Lebanon in the circle of danger, especially with the presence of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians on its territory.”
The Minister of Social Affairs was asked about means to solve the crisis and whether the solutions should be security or political, he said: "We have to stop the current schism and go for electing a President of the Republic to be able to close the doors to the blowing winds."
"The solution begins with restoring the political situation," he assured.
Asked about the youth age groups among the displaced Syrians, he replied: "There is a majority of families, women and children, but can't we find among them at least a hundred thousand young people who received military training? Is it that difficult to train and arm them?"
"Except the incident of Arsal, I believe we are still doing fine. However, I am afraid to fall into racism swamps. I therefore appeal to the Syrian brothers to maintain the Lebanese society so it could keep welcoming them."
Concerned over the drop in the United Nations' assistance by the end of the year, Derbas said the UN attention might be directed elsewhere. However, he seemed reassured over the non-settlement of displaced Syrians.
The Minister revealed in this regard a plan aimed at reducing the number of displaced persons.
"We are working on identifying the displaced. I have prepared a pertinent dossier and the cabinet has approved it. From now on, we will be the ones to register the displaced instead of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. A displaced is the one that has no haven but Lebanon. (...) This will help reduce their numbers, along with the decision taken by the Minister of Interior which provides that every person who goes to Syria loses his status as displaced," he explained.
"As I said earlier, this is an Arab exodus and the Arab countries ought to assume their full responsibility in this regard," Derbas concluded.