EU announces $1 billion in aid to Lebanon

European Commission President says the aid was designed to strengthen basic services such as education and health in the country mired in a severe economic crisis

Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, centre, welcomes Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides, right, and Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, in Beirut. AP
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EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday announced $1 billion in aid for Lebanon during a visit to the crisis-hit country and urged it to tackle illegal migration to the bloc.

The EU has already agreed deals with Tunisia, Mauritania and other countries to stem flows of irregular migrants.

“I can announce a financial package of $1 billion for Lebanon that would be available from this year until 2027,” Ms Von der Leyen said, adding that “we want to contribute to Lebanon's socio-economic stability”.

The European Commission President said the aid was designed to strengthen basic services including education and health in the country mired in a severe economic crisis.

She called for the adoption of reforms, saying: “Lebanon needs a positive economic momentum to give opportunities to its businesses and citizens.”

Ms Von der Leyen said the EU was committed to maintaining “legal pathways open to Europe” and resettling refugees to the bloc, but added that “at the same time, we count on your good co-operation to prevent illegal migration and combat migrant smuggling”.

Lebanon's economy collapsed in late 2019. Since then, the country has become a launch pad for migrants, with Lebanese joining Syrians and Palestinian refugees making perilous voyages bound for Europe.

The authorities in Beirut say Lebanon currently hosts about two million people from neighbouring Syria – the world's highest number of refugees per capita – with about 785,000 registered with the UN.

“We understand the challenges that Lebanon faces with hosting Syrian refugees and other displaced persons,” said Ms Von der Leyen, adding the EU had supported Lebanon with €2.6 billion ($2.7 billion) for hosting refugees.

The war in Syria erupted in 2011 after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests has killed more than half a million people and displaced around half of the prewar population.

While the war has morphed into sporadic clashes since the government consolidated its control over much of central and western Syria, many Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries including Lebanon say they will not be safe if they return.

Lebanon has also faced about seven months of clashes between the Iran-backed group Hezbollah and Israel on its southern border.

Tens of thousands of Lebanese people have been internally displaced from the south of the country, where Israel has conducted near daily air strikes on Lebanese territory.

The eastern Mediterranean country remains essentially leaderless, without a president and headed by a caretaker government with limited powers amid deadlock between entrenched political barons.

Ms Von der Leyen was accompanied by Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, who is on his second visit to Lebanon in less than a month.

Cyprus, the EU's easternmost member, less than 200km from Lebanon and Syria, wants to curb migrant boat departures from Lebanon towards it shores.

It says the Israel-Hamas war has weakened Beirut's efforts to monitor its territorial waters.

Some Lebanese politicians have blamed Syrians for their country's worsening troubles, and pressure often mounts ahead of an annual conference on Syria held in Brussels, with a ministerial meeting set for May 27.

Updated: May 02, 2024, 11:16 AM