Prime Minister Saad Hariri delivered this morning a speech in the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region in which he calls upon the international community to " invest in peace and support our stability."
"I would like to thank Belgium and its co-hosts and the United Nations for this conference, and I would like to take advantage of this gathering today, to tell you the story of Abdallah," Hariri said.
"Abdallah is a Lebanese farmer, living with his wife and five children in a tiny shack in Arsal, a town near the Syrian borders.
One day, back in 2011, four infants and their parents banged his door asking for shelter as they flee the atrocities in Syria.
Abdallah hosted the Syrian family with content, sharing his bread in half.
We Lebanese know how war feels like, we have been there before, and we know how tragic it is to be homeless.
Soon after that incident, someone else knocked on Abdallah's door, but this time it was an organization handing out humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians, barely enough for them, disregarding the host family who is actually taking on the burden.
Now Abdallah is having second thoughts.
He is as poor as the displaced family, sharing his meal and carrying the weight without any support.
Years of that repeated scenario, and now tension began to rise between the two families,"Hariri said.
"This is the story of four million Lebanese, hosting 1.5 million displaced Syrians added to half a million Palestinian refugees already in Lebanon," Hariri added.
"It is as if 500 million European Union citizens suddenly woke up to an increase of 250 million people overnight! And Europeans have to help them when they are barely capable of helping themselves.
Unimaginable as this story might be, the predictable happened:
Lebanon's GDP growth rate has dropped from an average of 8 percent before the crisis to just over 1 percent in the following years.
Total loss to our GDP since the start of the conflict reached 18 billion dollars in 2015.
Poverty rate has reached 30 percent, and the overall unemployment rate doubled to 20%, while unemployment among Lebanese youth is at 30%.
Our public services are over stretched and our infrastructure depleted and needless to say, our debt and budget deficit ratios have increased.
On top of that, estimates suggest that more than 500,000 Syrian and Lebanese youth are at risk as social discontent rises. 90% of Lebanese youth feel threatened by the displaced Syrians, and tensions between both communities are reaching a dangerous level.
This could result in social unrest and violence, which threatens the country's security and political stability.
The current situation in Lebanon is a ticking time bomb," Hariri noted.
"While facing these difficult circumstances, Lebanon was able to fulfill its commitments at the London conference, and continues to provide a global public good on behalf of the rest of the world.
I am very much pleased with the follow up to the London conference, and we hope to see in the near future a follow up to the Brussels conference.
We need to maintain the dialogue and cooperation between us. It is a must.
However, the conflict in Syria lasted longer than we all thought and prospects for the safe return of the displaced Syrians to their home country remain uncertain.
Humanitarian aid has been very helpful, yet not enough.
Time has come to implement long-term solutions, for this long-term crisis," he said.
"No country has shown the generosity of Lebanon, given our economic and political challenges over the past years.
But I am afraid that Lebanon cannot continue, and will not continue to sustain the consequences of hosting 1, 5 million displaced on its territory, unless a new plan is put in place.
Where do we go from here? It is up to you to determine how the story of Abdallah continues; it can take either a path of hope or a path of despair.
We can together invest in hope and pursue the vision of the Government of Lebanon, and enter an era of growth, stabilization and development, where Syrians are educated, trained and well equipped to contribute to the future of their country," Hariri added.
The Prime Minister went on , "Or, we can surrender to despair and allow poverty and unemployment in Lebanon to increase, pushing displaced Syrians into further insecurity and vulnerability to radicalization; and what's worse, I fear that further economic deterioration and insecurity might push both, displaced Syrians and Lebanese, to seek another home."
Hariri said ,"I stand before you this morning to ask you to invest in hope. Just like Lebanon did.
We have developed a clear strategy to deal with the severe repercussions of the Syrian crisis, and to put Lebanon back on a sustainable path of stabilization and development.
The strategy relies on two pillars:
The first is to launch a large-scale capital investment program that would help generate employment to both Lebanese and Syrians.
The second is to provide education opportunities to displaced Syrians, including non-formal education, technical and vocational training.
I call upon you to invest in peace and support our stability.
Today, Lebanon represents a model of moderation and coexistence for the entire region... please protect it."
"Let us together invest in the future of a stable Lebanon.
Let us together invest in peace and stability of the region and the world.
Let us invest in Lebanon and invest in Syria's future generation, where Lebanon can be the perfect launching pad for Syria's reconstruction," Hariri concluded.
Source: National News Agency