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Lazarinni interview with Annahar Newspaper

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30 September 2015
Lazarinni interview with Annahar Newspaper
Philippe Lazzarini UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon spoke to Annahar (Hassan Assal).
Swiss national Philippe Lazzarini has only been appointed as Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon, serving as Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for 6 weeks now. Nevertheless, the UN official seems quite aware of the realities of the Lebanese crisis, as reflected in his “consistent” understanding of the repercussions of the war in Syria over its neighboring countries, which he bases on his “preventive perspective” about peace and security.  
From international events including the meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon, to local developments plagued by “crises” ranging from the elections, to protests, and garbage, Lazzarini explains the UN and international attitude toward Lebanon

Annahar met with Lazzarini at the UN headquarter in Beirut and conducted the following interview:

- Can you give us some insights about the preparations for the International Support Group for Lebanon? What kind of support will Lebanon be receiving in the coming period?
The meeting itself proves that Lebanon is still a priority on the international community’s agenda, despite the multitude of other subjects. It is important to hold discussions within the Group about how to better support Lebanon, especially as it deals with the burdens of the Syrian crisis. The meeting will focus on security, but it will also tackle ways to support Lebanon for it to overcome its political crisis, especially the presidential vacuum. In addition, the meeting will discuss the impact of Syrian refugees on the Lebanese economy (…)

- Other than messages, do you expect any practical initiatives to result from the meeting?
The main message here is reaching an agreement between the leading international players on the need to maintain Lebanon’s security and to search for ways to increase the support to the country in order to insure that peace, stability, and security are actually maintained.

- How does the current crisis and I mean the presidential vacuum affects the work of UN agencies?
The government paralysis affects the decision making process and coordination (with the UN). There are some figures about the support that the international community is providing to Lebanon, especially through loans that now seem frozen or suspended because they need the approval of the entire cabinet (…) however, I have received some reassurances during my meetings with a number of officials, especially Finance Minister (Ali Hassan Khalil) who said that although the Council of Ministers is not convening, there is a way to secure a number of important loans which have terms that need to be extended. 

- Can you mention some of these figures?
The World Bank has the figures, but I know they have a Multi Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) of over 100 million USD (75 million as grants, correction) as loans or regressive interest loans that cannot be used at the time being due to the decision making process.

- How do you assess the government’s response to the recent protests, knowing that the UN reiterated its support to the government, but also called on it to protect freedom of speech?
I see no contradiction. It is important for the state to preserve freedom of speech and the right of peaceful protest. There were reports about excessive force being used against the protesters, but as United Nations we do not have the tools to look into these allegations. Minister of Interior and Municipalities (Nohad al-Mashnouk) said these claims will be investigated, we wish for that to happen and for the perpetrators to be held accountable. The tensions on the streets and within the government lead to the paralysis of institutions. Besides, the presidential vacuum complicates the country’s ability to move forward in these critical times, especially on the economic level, with growth rate reaching zero for the first time ever. In addition, refugees now constitute a third of the population. We are looking forward to more unity among the Lebanese at these times, instead of divisions.  

- There were reports suggesting that the UN was ready to help Lebanon solve the garbage crisis which sparked the protests:
The garbage crisis was one reason for the Lebanese to express their frustration due to the lack of order in the country.
Today, there is the garbage crisis, and tomorrow there might be an electricity crisis, and the day after tomorrow a water crisis. As UN and UNDP, we have provided technical consultation for the committee formed by the cabinet and headed by the minister of agriculture. However, the complete solution should come from the committee itself, and should be based on the deliberations with local groups, municipalities, and institutions. We have put environmental experts at the disposal of the committee, and we shall continue to support it and other concerned authorities until a final solution is reached. We are also ready to support the government who will be charged with implementing and monitoring the plan. Lebanon needs to make decisions, and some measures need to be taken for the short, medium and long terms that guarantee the respect of the environment. 

- How do you plan to redress the shortage of funding of the response plan(LCRP) which was approved by Lebanon to deal the Syrian refugees’ crisis, taking into consideration that only 32% of the needed $ 2.1 billion funding is available?
For many reasons, we cannot look at the impact of the crisis impact on Lebanon and both the Lebanese and Syrians from a mere humanitarian perspective, most importantly because the humanitarian perspective does not solve the crisis. Everyone knows that the crisis can only be approached through an integrated political solution. And as long as we lack this solution, we have to search for ways to alleviate the people’s suffering and reduce the impact of the crisis on Lebanon and the host communities (…) Meanwhile, the economy is suffering. Export markets have closed down due to the conflict in Syria and in the region. There are also multiple challenges which require looking to Lebanon from a preemptive perspective where it comes to peace and security. This necessitates providing humanitarian support and seeking ways to provide development assistance, while insuring “stability assistance”.   Based on this same perspective, we should seek to secure resources that go beyond the usual traditional humanitarian parties. 
Besides, the crisis now hitting Europe may form “a wakeup call” and prompt it to double its support for the countries neighboring Syria, such as Lebanon (…) this burden is not being shared equally today, especially for countries like Lebanon. Therefore, it is important to repair the situation because this is not sustainable, and if we do not show enough care, the crisis may grow even further. 

- Did you receive any promising pledges from Arab countries?
Kuwait offered remarkable support during the last conference held in the country. A number of Gulf States are also directly involved in some projects, especially in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs. However, we are expecting more, especially resettling refugees, and here I don’t just mean the Gulf countries, but also Europe. Let’s be clear, the response does not meet the needs. We keep talking about Lebanon’s immunity, however “testing” this immunity excessively would eventually drain it (…)

- The World Food Program(WFP) recently decided to drop its aids for refugees to $14 a month. How should this decision be faced?
The Program did not take this decision by choice but it did due to the lack of resources. Yesterday, I met with refugees in the south and I asked them how the drop in aids affected their everyday lives. A lady said her family was directly affected, and now she has only one child attending school, out of four who were attending it before, because they can no longer afford the transportation costs. I hope the WFP would later be able to increase its assistance and resume its plan (…). We should note that the decision of the WFP is not restricted to Lebanon but includes Jordan as well.
The WFP also recently announced that in case it does not receive new funding, it will have to suspend its activities in Syria as well, starting the month of November, which would be disastrous before Winter (…)

- How do you respond to Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil who criticized the UN for its decision to register Syrian refugee children in Lebanon? 
The Unites Nations does not provide birth certificates; this is the responsibility of the State and its institutions. However, it is important to register the children born from Syrian refugees as children born from refugee parents in a given country, and the UNHCR is doing just that. When the family returns to Syria, it will have a proof that the child was born from parents who were in Lebanon during the crisis.
Besides, Lebanese legislations are clear. The mere fact of being born in the country, does not automatically give the child the right to be Lebanese. This concerns Lebanese sovereignty. In any case, I think the deliberations between the UN and the Lebanese State insured a better understanding of the subject. 

- There have been many reports suggesting that Syrian refugees are using the port of Tripoli in their illegal immigration to Europe, do you have any information in this regard?
I have read about these claims in the media but we do not have any additional credible information about the use of the port of Tripoli.
Although some Syrian refugees reaching Europe are saying they have left from countries neighboring Syria due to the difficult living conditions, a number of people are also leaving straight from Syria toward Europe.
My colleague in Damascus warned that larger numbers of immigrants would reach Europe, if no additional support is provided in the coming few months.

Full Interview is available here