BEIRUT: The UN in Lebanon has denied it has any intention of stopping its operations or evacuating its personnel from the country.
It said that “the support provided by the UN through its activities and operations is continuing and increasing at a faster rate, regardless of the challenges that resulted from the pandemic of the new coronavirus.”
Stories circulated on social media at the end of last week about the intention of the UN to withdraw from Lebanon — and that the international organization had told its foreign employees to prepare their passports in preparation for leaving the country.
However, the UN in Lebanon described this information as “speculation” in a statement issued on Monday
For the first time since 2011, two World Food Programme (WFP) trucks carrying supplies were seized last Tuesday while crossing the northern coastal road toward Syrian territory. The young men who intercepted the trucks justified their actions by saying that the Lebanese were hungry and that some people in the Lebanese state were “smuggling food items at the expense of the Lebanese people to the Syrian regime.”
The two trucks are still parked at the Port of Tripoli after Lebanese customs teams worked to protect them and return them to the port.
Malak Jaafar, the WFP spokesperson in Lebanon, told Arab News: “There is no decision yet to move the organization’s convoy from Lebanon to Syria. The convoy includes 39 trucks loaded with foodstuffs to be sent to the organization’s warehouses in Homs, Syria. There are 37 trucks at Beirut port and two trucks at Tripoli port waiting for security clearance so that we can move the convoy toward Syrian territory and there are contacts with Lebanese officials to secure this protection.”
Jaafar said that the WFP “buys its materials from international markets and ships them for the benefit of the organization in Beirut. From there, Lebanese trucks transport these materials into the Syrian territories, which means that our operations pump dollars into the Lebanese market, and we and all humanitarian organizations consider Lebanon an important passage for our operations. Lebanon is not a country in conflict and we do not need to put a (UN) logo on the trucks, but it is on the food bags, and Lebanon is a host country and we thank it all the time.”
The spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Danielle Moylan, told Arab News: “The Lebanon-Syria border crossing has been recently closed in line with COVID-19 preventive measures. However, there are currently exemptions in place for humanitarian personnel and cargo to transit through, which remain an important part of the ongoing humanitarian assistance to more than 6 million people on average in Syria each month.”
The support provided by the UN through its activities and operations is continuing and increasing at a faster rate, regardless of the challenges that resulted from the pandemic of the new coronavirus.
Malak Jaafar, WFP spokesperson in Lebanon
Lebanon is facing a severe economic recession and collapse of its national currency against the dollar as the exchange rate of the dollar recorded an increase in the black market of more than four times its official price. The government is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund to obtain assistance through a rescue plan prepared by the government but disputed by political and economic officials in Lebanon.
There are fears that the solution of pumping $6 million a day by the central bank to the official money-changers, which started on Monday, is a temporary one that may drain the treasury reserves. It may prevent the ability to subsidize raw materials, medical and diesel, in light of the government’s failure so far to control the smuggling operations of subsidized materials from Lebanon to Syria, especially of flour and diesel.
“Our aid to Lebanon is separate from our aid to Syria,” Jaafar said. “Lebanon has a targeted budget and lists since 2012. During this week, we will distribute aid to more than 50,000 families affected by hunger and the corona pandemic, and we have other projects we are implementing in Lebanon related to providing food meals for public schoolchildren in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs.”
About 4 million people in Syria, the majority of whom have been displaced due to the war — in addition to the families whose breadwinners are women and families that have no income — benefit from WFP aid, according to WFP spokesperson in Syria, Abeer Etefa.
Etefa told Arab News: “The numbers increase or decrease according to need and these people are distributed in all governorates in Syria. We use all border crossings to bring in aid to the Syrian territory from Turkey and Jordan at certain times, from Lebanon, occasionally across the Iraqi border, through the port of Tartus and sometimes by air as we did in Deir Ezzor.”
Etefa said that Lebanon is an “important logistical corridor. We adhere to what is issued by the Security Council. In Syria, we have five or six large storage facilities to package and distribute food baskets that are sufficient for one person for a month. In Lebanon, we use local shipping companies, drivers, a port, and workers. It is a hugely useful process.”
On the impact of the freezing of the convoy’s trip to Syria, Etefa said: “39 trucks have stopped in Lebanon. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of tons of food. We hope that things stabilize so that we can continue to use Lebanon and that there will be a benefit for everyone. We previously shipped wheat from the US to Syria via Lebanon, and nobody objected to the matter. Lebanon has an important position and we do not want to lose it. We have not reached this stage yet and we hope that we will not reach it because we consider Lebanon to be effective and we want Lebanon to benefit from our operations.”
Meanwhile, truck drivers staged a sit-in at the Port of Beirut on Monday to protest against Syrian drivers working at the port. The Syndicate of Public Truck Owners announced the seizure of more than 10 public trucks driven by Syrians along with their cargo.
The president of the National Federation of Employees’ and Workers’ Unions in Lebanon, Castro Abdullah, said: “Truck owners are under pressure due to the conditions in the country. We have talked to officials repeatedly and not reached any solution to the issue of drivers. We demand the application of laws in this vital facility of the national economy and control of violations that occur in the labor law. If the issue is not addressed, the port gates will be closed next week.”