ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: The visit of SG Ban Ki-moon to Lebanon stirred political reviews, particularly concerning the issue of Syrian refugee resettlement. Are there any plans on ground for this?
SCL SIGRID KAAG: No, none whatsoever. It is always surprising how this came about. It is probably a good insight for us into the anxiety amongst the population. So in that sense, I think the discussion is probably very helpful because it reminds us that the average citizen in Lebanon is concerned, they don’t know what the future would bring. So it is very important for us to keep on clarifying that and to restate what the UN Secretary-General has clearly said in all his meetings and what was repeated also by the Prime Minister and (Parliament) Speaker Berri that there is neither an intention nor a discussion nor a plan of resettlement.
The purpose of the Secretary-General’s visit with the President of the World Bank and the President of the Islamic Development Bank was really to focus, to take stock of the challenges Lebanon is facing, what can and should be done for vulnerable Lebanese citizens alongside providing continued relevant assistance to the Syrian refugees. However, one cannot be naïve knowing that we are now into year six of the crisis. The projected temporary stay in Lebanon of the refugees needs significantly more support and that is precisely why the President of the World Bank was alongside and the President of the Islamic Development Bank because there is a lot of effort to provide longer term large-scale concessional financing for Lebanon beyond humanitarian support which will benefit Lebanon as a country long after the Syrian refugees hopefully have been able to return home. So, there is no question, no plan of resettlement. There is a role of providing protection of course to the refugees and providing assistance very much one of responsibility sharing by the international community but it is always a sovereign decision of the State of Lebanon. There is no discussion, no plan (for resettlement).
ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: We have the same temporary situation with the Palestinian refugees who have been here since 1945. This generates many concerns…
SCL SIGRID KAAG: I think this is very understandable but the situations are very different at the same time.
ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: The number of refugees in Lebanon is probably now half of the Lebanese population. How do you think it is affecting Lebanon and how can we deal with it?
SCL SIGRID KAAG: For us, the Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR are approximately 1.1 million (exact figure: 1,055,984) and UNRWA estimates that there are about 300,000 Palestine Refugees in Lebanon, less than the ones registered in UNRWA. However I don’t think it is important to say at the moment it is 1.xx million, it is significant. It is between one on four or One on third persons on Lebanon soil is a refugee. No other country in the world has been able to cope or to manage and so I think the purpose also of the Secretary-General’s visit and something
we repeat all the time is one of big thanks, admiration and appreciation for the people of Lebanon, Government and all partners.
How to manage the impact of the Syria crisis on the economy, on infrastructure, on social services? Obviously at the political track we need to see a horizon of a political solution for the Syria crisis, that is Geneva and Vienna and a lot of efforts are focused on that. AT the same time, significantly more continued support for Lebanon. If you look at some of the projects that were submitted, programmes by the Government at the London Conference, they really speak to the big needs of Lebanon, infrastructure, investing in education, making sure that all Lebanese children are in school so we can also help deal with the anxiety or the sense that people feel that the Syrians are taking our jobs or Syrian children are in school but why not Lebanese. The facts are different, at least I know for the education sector, so we need to clarify, we need to explain but we also need to provide proof of concept. I think the big change also the London Conference is that there is also a real effort to try to take renewed look at employment creation also for the Lebanese. As we know, the Lebanese unemployment rates are high, are growing. What we hear is that young people do not know if their future is in this country or if they will find the opportunity to prosper and to grow. So there needs to be a compact between the Government as well as the international community.
Lebanon is a regional public good. It is a pluralistic society, it is democratic, it is unique in so many ways and has a very strong and thriving population. But we need to work harder to ensure that Lebanon can realize its potential. For that however we also need the institutions of State to function, there needs to be a president elected and there needs to be a governance system that actually functions from top to down the chain. The Secretary-General has spoken to that, the Security Council speaks to that frequently and the President of the World Bank the other day was very clear in his press statement when he said for us to pass loans to you, we need the legislature to adopt them. That’s part of the world.
ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: Are there any plans to send refugees to other countries?
SCL SIGRID KAAG: There are ongoing efforts to resettle refugees. At the moment, the statistics are very low. The recent Geneva conference organized by UNHCR, there was a proposal made of resettlement of 10 percent of refugees hosted in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. I do not know what the response has been and of course when you are in Lebanon, when you hear 10 percent and the per capita refugees on your soil is ratio one on three-one on four, I can understand that people have a degree of cynicism around this but we need to push on all levels.
ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: On the subject of presidency, do you fear that the current situation in Lebanon would lead to chaos?
SCL SIGRID KAAG: I think it is dangerous to speculate on the future. So far what we have seen is that all political parties, movements, political leaders are keen to avert further stagnation and of course any disruption to the stability of the country. The international community is very much committed through support to the Lebanese Armed Forces, the institutions of Government, the partnership with the Government of Tamam Salam, to ensure that the investments are at
socio-economic level, support to the army, that the stability is maintained. But what we do see – and I have expressed this often to the Security Council – we are concerned because this is not an endless journey. There are consequences to the erosion of the institutions of State. Lebanon lives in a very volatile, high-risk environment. So the sooner leadership questions are addressed, the better it is for projection of stability and securing real-time stability of the country. I think it is important to focus also on the lost opportunities for Lebanon. You are navigating admirably a time of crisis but there is tremendous lost opportunities as well in terms of getting ready for the future, investments that are not happening, changes that are not being made, laws that do not get passed. All that is time lost that does not come back.
ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: How do you evaluate the situation at the borders in south Lebanon now in light of resolution 1701 and the quarterly report on it?
SCL SIGRID KAAG: In July, it will be ten years that we are reporting on the implementation of resolution 1701. If we look at the relative calm alongside the border over a ten-year period by July this year, it is remarkable given all the variables and potential risks. At the same time, the consistent message I give to the Security Council – and the Secretary-General in his reports – is that there remains a risk of miscalculation by both parties of tremendously detrimental, harmful consequences to populations on both sides. I do not need to detail the violations that are consistently listed in each report. I would say there is a concern that with matters unresolved, a risk of miscalculation or error can only grow. It is our duty also to remind both parties to look for opportunities to actually see where progress can be made and where risk factors can be addressed. There are many elements of the resolution, if you look over a ten year period, where not much has happened neither on the Shebaa Farms nor on Ghajar, demarcation of the Lebanese-Syrian borders. There are many areas where renewed efforts should be made because all these are building blocks towards a more profound stability. The absence of conflict or absence of violence does not equate stability as we know.
ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: Resolution 1701 stipulates that militias behind the Litani will be eliminated. Yet, we feel they are still present everywhere.
SCL SIGRID KAAG: One of the important ways in which to strengthen the institutions of State, because that is the counter, of course is to work to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces which is why we are very much in close coordination, consultation but also political support and advocacy precisely on the role of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the importance they present for the stability of Lebanon currently but also as one of the ways of achieving part of the implementation of 1701. This is very important. You will have remembered that the Secretary-General made a visit to the Minister of Defense and the Lebanese Armed Forces to underscore the significance the Lebanese Armed Forces holds, not only as a national institution but also as an important factor towards securing stability and securing Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, you also see in 1701 that reported arms build up by Hizbullah is of course of concern. I don’t have to repeat what was already said in the Secretary-General’s report (attached SG’s last report on 1701).
ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: What is your view on the role of the United Nations in maritime delineation?
SCL SIGRID KAAG: According to the International Law of the Sea, the United Nations does not demarcate maritime borders. The Government has submitted a request to provide Good Offices by the United Nations, so that is a political, diplomatic role. That request has been submitted to the Secretary-General. It is not an operational-military-physical role. The United Nations does not engage in the demarcation of maritime borders, boundaries. There is a request for Good Offices by the United Nations.
ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: What are the UN plans on the issue of the Palestinian refugees and the lack of funding?
SCL SIGRID KAAG: There are two issues, one of them is reforms undertaken by UNRWA in the management of the limited resources against tremendous pressures it continually faces. UNRWA is having to deal with the demographic growth and it is very difficult for the budget to keep up at the best of times. So a number of measures are long term reform measures that are undertaken at headquarters level. But of course the situation of the Palestine refugees in Lebanon are very specific because of their status here and the lack of opportunity for employment and the sensitivities within the country of their presence. I have taken this issue also to the Security Council and I have discussed it and brought it also again, as Prime Minister Tamam Salam and other ministers, to the attention of the Secretary-General but there is a need case and a special case and we are looking, it may also be an opportunity again for a number of the Gulf countries to support Lebanon’s stability but actually by providing dedicated assistance to UNRWA because any further fragility for the Palestine refugees in Lebanon, insecurity, also renders their situation more difficult, it poses new challenges for Lebanon, the system and the State, and of course we are concerned as we are in all countries about the risk of radicalization. There is a group that is sufficiently marginalized – in any population, we see that in Europe too – there is a small correlation between continued marginalization and a risk of radicalization. So this is the time I think we need to continue to invest. This has been my plea to the Security Council and you have also seen it in the statement that the Security Council issued after the briefing I gave on 16 March.