In the afternoon of 4 August 2020, two explosions occurred at the seaport of Beirut, causing over 200 dead and more than 7,000 injured. The shockwave damaged much of Beirut’s city centre. Following a request from the Lebanese authorities, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated on 5 August. In the wake of the blasts, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets, leading to the resignation of the government on Monday 9 August. The blasts come at a time of a socio-economic decline, hitting Lebanese, refugee and migrant communities alike. Syrian refugees make up 30% of the country’s population. The deepening economic crisis is now compounded by the coronavirus outbreak and the consequences of the explosions, leaving refugees and a growing number of Lebanese increasingly vulnerable and destitute. The EU provides humanitarian aid to alleviate the most urgent needs amongst the most vulnerable throughout Lebanon.
The destructive explosions that rocked Beirut on 4 August have caused over 200 fatalities and injured over 7, 000 people. As Lebanese authorities announced the end of search-and-rescue efforts on 9 August, search teams have transitioned to a recovery operation. Humanitarian needs are still being assessed.
This tragedy is likely to affect the living conditions of hundreds of thousands of refugees, amid economic hardship, growing protection concerns and the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Some neighbourhoods in the directly affected areas of Beirut are amongst the poorest, housing refugees, migrants and Lebanese, often in collective housing or informal dwellings.
Previously reliant on daily labour and insecure jobs, many refugees have recently lost their income and are incurring additional debt to pay for essentials such as rent, food, medicines and extra hygiene products. 8 in 10 elderly, disabled or chronically ill refugees have had to reduce food intake during the recent lockdown, according to a survey by the UN Refugee Agency. With eviction notices on the rise and desperation growing, refugees are increasingly considering a return to Syria where the conflict has entered its 10th year. Some refugees are victims of abuse and exploitation, and resorting to desperate decisions such as child labour and early marriage.
Many Syrian refugees do not have legal documentation, which restricts their freedom of movement and access to basic services and employment. Soaring inflation and unemployment are pushing families further into poverty. Already before the coronavirus outbreak, half of all Syrian refugee families were surviving on less than $2.9 per person per day, and 58% of their school-aged children were out of school.
As the immediate response to the explosions close to 300 European search and rescue, chemical, structural engineers and medical teams were deployed to Beirut through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Additional in-kind assistance has been sent, with over 2, 000 chemical protection suits, more than 50 tonnes of medical equipment as well as critical medical, food items, surgical kits, thousands of FFP2 masks and protective kits. Additionally, two French vessels have delivered freight containers with food and construction material to Beirut as well as fire trucks and ambulances.
On 9 August, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič participated in the virtual ‘International Conference on Support to Beirut and the Lebanese People’, organised by the United Nations and France. The conference received pledges worth €252.7 million – the EU being the largest contributor with €63 million. On 13 August, an EU Humanitarian Air bridge flight landed in Beirut. The plane carried on board over 17 tonnes of humanitarian supplies, medicines and medical equipment. The transport cost was fully covered by the European Commission while the cargo was procured by the EU’s humanitarian partners UNICEF and Médecins du Monde.
Since 2011, the European Union has provided more than €660 million in humanitarian funding to respond to the fall out of the Syria crisis in Lebanon. This funding has helped particularly vulnerable refugees who often live under precarious conditions.
60% of the current EU humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon is provided in the form of multi-purpose cash assistance. The other 40% goes to addressing emergencies and acute needs, as well as critical protection services and non-formal education. Cash assistance reduces vulnerability in the face of a deepening socio-economic crisis as well as protection threats, such as evictions and exploitation. In 2019, this assistance benefitted more than 338,000 people who mostly used the money to cover essential needs such as food, shelter and healthcare. Amidst coronavirus outbreak, the EU has scaled up humanitarian aid in the form of cash assistance to refugees living under the minimum survival basket, with a special focus on the elderly, disabled and chronically ill. EU humanitarian partners also provide refugees with much needed information and legal assistance in the face of numerous protection concerns.
Following the coronavirus lockdown, considerable efforts have been made to maintain the protection activities given the increasing reports of violence, abuse and exploitation of minors. EU humanitarian partners have adapted their way of working, following cases by phone and messaging while maintaining one-on-one services in case of emergencies.In 2019, the EU humanitarian assistance ensured that more than 12,600 Syrian children who were out of school could access education, facilitating their transition into formal education.