BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Friday that "Lebanon has become a refugee camp," speaking at a news conference for foreign media in Lebanon.
"Some people say we should have refugee camps in Lebanon. I say Lebanon has become a refugee camp," the Associated Press quoted Hariri as saying.
"The international community has to understand that Lebanon cannot pay the price of the unresolved conflict in Syria," he added.
The Lebanese premier appealed to the international community to commit $10,000 to $12,000 per refugee each year over a period of five to seven years. He also appealed for investments in infrastructure, education, security and other sectors in Lebanon.
"I think that will make sure that Lebanon could stand on its own," he said.
The U.N. refugee agency has registered around 1.03 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon since the conflict in Syria erupted in 2011, although the Lebanese government puts the actual number at more than 1.5 million.
The influx of the refugees has been a strain on the already devastated infrastructure in Lebanon.
Lebanon also hosts around 450,000 Palestinian refugees living in 12 refugee camps across the country.
"We have been pushing our capabilities to the extreme," Hariri said, pointing out that the World Bank estimates that the Syria crisis has cost Lebanon $18 billion in lost economic activity since 2011.
He added was afraid tensions between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees would reach a breaking point.
"Today if you go around most of the host communities, there is a huge tension between the Lebanese and the Syrians ... I fear civil unrest," Reuters quoted Hariri as saying.
Lebanese cities across the country have witnessed demonstrations against what protesters see as unfair competition from Syrian labor.
A number of municipalities have cracked down on businesses owned by Syrian refugees, forcing their closure. The moves fall in line with Labor Ministry decisions that only grant refugees the right to practice a number of low skilled jobs.
Hariri’s remarks came after the premier chaired a meeting to discuss government policies on Syrian refugees, in preparation for the upcoming Brussels Conference.
During the meeting, the head of the Council of Development and Reconstruction presented a plan to address the refugee crisis, statement carried by Hariri’s office said
The plan includes details on Lebanon’s infrastructural needs, which have been impacted by the influx of Syrian refugees.
Deputy PM and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Refugee Affairs Minister Mouin Merehbi were among those in attendance.
Entitled “Supporting the future of Syria and the region,” the conference is scheduled for April 5 and will be hosted by the European Union together with six co-chairs: the United Nations, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and Qatar.
The conference in Brussels will bring together representatives from 70 delegations, major donors and humanitarian and development organizations to assess where the international community stands in regards to fulfilling the commitments made at the London Conference in February 2016.
On that occasion, leaders pledged more than $10 billion to help fund schools, shelter and jobs for refugees.