UN postpones dual-currency cash aid for Syrian refugees in Lebanon after criticism

un postpones dual-currency cash aid for syrian refugees in lebanon after criticism

The US initially planned to give Syrian refugees cash aid in US dollars because of difficulties in obtaining Lebanese pounds. AP

The UN has delayed a decision to give Syrian refugees in Lebanon cash aid partly in US dollars after objections from senior Lebanese officials that the payments could exacerbate tensions with citizens.

The UN said on Saturday that it would temporarily pause the use of dollars alongside Lebanese pounds for next month’s disbursement of cash assistance to refugees, after requests from Lebanese officials.

Discussions are to continue on the best way to give aid, the global body said.

Lebanon’s local currency has lost more than 98 per cent of its value since an economic meltdown began in 2019, putting a strain on Lebanese families and the 800,000 Syrians registered with the UN refugee agency.

UN officials including Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Lebanon Imran Riza on Tuesday said their agencies would begin distributing aid to refugees in dollars and Lebanese pounds.

They said the “rapid depreciation” of the pound, fluctuations in the exchange rate and logistical challenges of securing large amounts of local currency made it “impossible for the United Nations and partners to continue to disburse cash assistance only in Lebanese pounds”.

But the same agencies announced an about-turn after meetings on Friday with Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar.

Mr Hajjar said his ministry had not been properly informed of the decision to provide aid in dollars, which he said would increase tensions between refugees and Lebanese.

A government source said Mr Mikati had not been aware of the “dollarisation” of aid.

The UN’s reversal comes amid heightened social tensions in Lebanon over the issue of refugees. Officials have said the country can no longer bear to host Syrians as it struggles to cope with the economic crisis.

The Lebanese army has carried out raids on camps and homes where refugees live. A humanitarian source told Reuters that more than 2,000 were arrested and more than 1,400 deported to Syria.

Security sources say the army is seeking out Syrians with invalid papers, but relatives of deported refugees say they face arrest and army conscription in their homeland.

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