We have set up a strategy to deal with the repercussions of the Syrian crisis; a strategy that relies on the investment of capitals to generate employment and education opportunities for displaced persons," said Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Brussels Conference on the future of Syria and the region held at the EU Council's headquarters.

"I would like to thank Belgium, its host partners and the United Nations for this conference. I would also like to seize this gathering as an opportunity to tell you (...) the story of four million Lebanese who have hosted 1.5 million displaced Syrians, added to the half a million Palestinian refugees who already lived on the Lebanese territory," Hariri said.

"As unimaginable as this story can be, it did happen. Lebanon's gross domestic product (GDP) has dropped from 8% before the crisis to just over 1% in later years. (...) The poverty rate has reached 30%, unemployment ratios have doubled to 20%, while unemployment among Lebanese youth is 30%. Besides, public services are overstretched, the infrastructure is exhausted, and it goes without saying that the budget's debt ratio has increased. Moreover, estimates show that more than 500,000 young men, between Syrian and Lebanese, face the risk of worsening social conditions," Hariri elaborated.

"90% of Lebanese youth feel threatened by Syrian refugees, and tension between these two communities has reached serious levels, which could lead to social unrest and violence that would eventually threaten the security and political stability of the country," he warned.

Deeming the current situation in Lebanon "a time bomb," Hariri praised Lebanon's ability to fulfill its commitments to the London Conference, and continue to provide humane services on behalf of other States, despite the major difficulties.

"We need to maintain dialogue and cooperation. The conflict in Syria has lasted longer than we all thought it would, and a safe return of Syrians to their homeland is still uncertain."

"The humanitarian aid has been very useful, but it still is not enough. It is high time we implement long-term solutions to this long-lasting crisis. No country has been as generous as Lebanon, given our economic and political situation and the challenges we have faced over the past years. However, I am afraid Lebanon will no longer be able to continue to shoulder the burdens of hosting 1.5 million Syrian refugees on its territory, unless a new plan is put into effect," the Prime Minister urged.

"We can invest in hope and pursue the vision set by the Lebanese government (...) to educate Syrians and train them as to contribute to the future of their country. Or, we can give up and allow poverty and unemployment to sweep over Lebanon, and so we would be pushing Syrian refugees to further insecurity and vulnerability to extremism. What is worse, I'm afraid, is the increasing economic decline and insecurity which may push both the Lebanese and the Syrian refugees to seek other havens," Hariri went on.

"I stand before you this morning to ask you to invest in hope, just as Lebanon did," he urged his audience, explaining Lebanon's strategy "to deal with the severe repercussions of the Syrian crisis: a Large-scale capital investment to help generate employment for both Lebanese and Syrians, and education opportunities to Syrian displaced persons, including non-formal education and technical and vocational training."

"Today, Lebanon represents a model of moderation and coexistence for the whole region; a model which we hope you will protect. Let us invest together in Lebanon's stable future. Let us invest together in peace and stability for the region and the world. Let us invest in Lebanon and in the future generation of Syria, for Lebanon can be the ideal ground for launching the reconstruction process in Syria," he concluded.

Source: National News Agency