Syrian Aid Forum for Emergency and Reconstruction (SAFER 2016)

Event Press Release

Day 1 – June 1, 2016

Opening Session
Riad Kahwaji, CEO, SEGMA, Dubai opened the conference by welcoming the attendees and thanking the sponsors and patrons of this important event.

Dr. Antoine Haddad, CEO, HBC SAL regarded the huge role that the Syrian refugee crisis plays in Lebanon as a neighboring country and as the largest host of refugees, taking into consideration its status as a weak state that needs to set national objectives concerning this issue while disregarding local political agendas. He stressed the importance of this forum which has an international outlook and incorporates the views of relevant countries and stakeholders. He also addressed the issue of sharing burdens, because Lebanon cannot handle the enormous economic burden on its own. Sharing burdens isn’t only granting soft loans, aid and donation, but surpasses this to include discussing solutions for the long term. He concluded by thanking H.E. Rachid Derbas, H.E. Sigrid Kaag, experts, organizers and sponsors and wished for a successful and tolerant conference.

H.E. Sigrid Kaag, United Nations Special Coordinator, Lebanon said the global backdrop to which this forum takes place is important to look at with 60 million people today being refugees and displaced, 40 million being internally displaced and 20 million being refugees. All these factors are challenging the stability of governments, with regional economies and humanitarian response systems under increased pressures. Kaag spoke about the importance of burden sharing and collective action and the need to shift and search for collective solutions and actions so that no one country feels that it should carry the burden on its own. Lebanon is clearly amongst the most impacted countries in the refugee crisis and all those involved including the Prime Minister and ministers have done a lot to find solutions to this crisis and its effect on their country. There are significant ongoing investments that are attempting to ensure Lebanon’s stability and security. She stressed that matters of citizenship and continued residence are a matter of the Lebanese constitution and national law and go under sovereign decision making by the state only.

H.E. Christos Stylianides, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner, European Union stated that humanitarian access is a pressing issue in the Syrian conflict that must be addressed. The European Union has not only supported refugees but also host communities to help them cope with the pressures of this conflict. Access to education is necessary and needs to be enhanced especially as it is the best tool against radicalization which could also pose a risk on host countries and communities. He concluded by saying his organizations’ support for Lebanon is not only financial but a partnership of shared burden which is also political in nature.

H.E. Rachid Derbas, Minister of Social Affairs, Lebanon commenced by telling the audience about a conference he attended in Geneva regarding the naturalization of refugees. Countries were discussing the possibility of taking in 100,000 refugees as a major obstacle, while he stated that one single village in Lebanon, Arsal, carries this entire burden themselves. Facing this terror is an international stability that should be based on solidarity and joint defense that would lead to a guaranteed political solution achieved by all states. He discussed the huge burden that Lebanon has faced due to this crisis, both social and economic, amounting to 20 billion dollars. He concluded by reassuring the crowd that Syria shall rise again and the Syrian people shall return to their homeland, and that Lebanon will always serve as a key place for the reconstruction of Syria. The whole world should have solidarity with Syrian refugees and help them in recovering and rebuilding what has been destroyed.

Plenary Session 1: The Humanitarian Response: Obstacles and Outlook, Lessons Learned
Maha Yehya, Director, Carnegie Middle East Center moderated the plenary session which covered the international, Lebanese and Jordanian experiences. She stated that there is a big shift in the demography with the crisis affecting the whole area given the huge influx of refugees – it is so hard to provide education and jobs to such a huge population. She also addressed the problem of coordination on all levels: local, regional as well as international hence coordination mechanisms should be priorities on our agenda.

H.E. Rachid Derbas, Minister of Social Affairs, Lebanon stated that the Syrians once lived a normal life with homes and jobs just like everyone else, but after the crisis they have been distributed very arbitrary, relying on aid and relief to go on with their lives. He stressed that the mission of such conferences should be to spread the hope of return to the refugees or we will be accomplices in making a nuclear bomb bigger than Hiroshima.

H.E. Christos Stylianides, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner, European Union stated that the most important message to send the Syrians is that they are not alone in this crisis. This is an international responsibility and the commitments of the Lebanese government and other regional governments have limits. Migrants and IDPS are not a Lebanese or regional issue but a global one. He also added that the EU does not only have a financial collaboration with Lebanon on this crisis, but a political partnership sharing the same values. He mentioned that the EU’s overall funding from the beginning of the Syrian crisis is 60 billion US dollars, which makes them the biggest donors to this crisis, with a reiteration that this is a moral obligation and they will continue to support this crisis as long as it takes.

Mireille Girard, UNHCR Representative, Lebanon stressed on the humanitarian dimension of the crisis; most refugees are traumatized from what they have endured. The approach that should be done is to scale up social protection in the Lebanese community and the refugees community. She mentioned that one lesson learned from Lebanon in handling the refugees, is the way they were dispersed into local communities rather than living in specialized refugee camps. This policy has allowed the local communities to also benefit from the aid that has been provided by the international community to build hospitals and schools. Girard stated that the average of debt per Syrian refugee family is around 1000 dollars which is increasing since the beginning of the crisis, however she stressed that we should avoid assistance dependency at all costs and let the ones who can support themselves do so on their own like pay their rent and pay their bills. This way we can focus on the less fortunate in a more significant way so the safety net becomes more efficient as well. We should make a comprehensive approach by sitting together on the municipality level and on the central government level as well as with the communities in order to come up with better solutions. This creates tension and disempowerment which delay solutions.

Samar Muhareb, Director of Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), Jordan mentioned that as a civil society representative, they are facing huge political shifts and dynamics in addition to humanitarian concerns. They have to cover the gaps of regulatory framework to capture the everyday challenges in operations. Muhareb added that there has been considerable improvement on the security front in Jordan in relation this crisis, however very little progress has taken place over the past six years on the relief and coordination front. In addition to Syrian refugees, Jordan has around 45,000 Yemeni refugees, hence resources need to be designated for the more urgent cases/crisis. She reiterated her wish to receive further support from EU and other international agencies in the crisis response.

Expert Panel 1: Another Face to the Crisis: Child Protection and Maintaining Proper Education
Dr. Nahla Hwalla, Dean of Faculty of Agricultural & Food Sciences, AUB moderated the first expert panel and introduced the first speaker on the panel.

Sonia El Khoury, Manager of the Program Management Unit (PMU), R.A.C.E Program, Ministry of Education, Lebanon mentioned that all schools provide social psychological support. In addition, she noted that a lot of Syrian students face problems with secondary languages so they worked on that issue by letting teachers give young children subjects in the English language like Math in order for them to grasp the language properly. She explained that the RACE Program is a three year program that has several components. She concluded by saying that responsibility must be shared to provide a proper education to these children in order to pursue higher education and get jobs so they can support themselves in the future.

Haneen Sayed, Program Leader (Human Development), World Bank, Lebanon stated that they have various programs within the World Bank however focused on the education programs during the discussion. She noted that there has been commendable progress in Lebanon in terms of providing education to a huge number of children. One of the most important elements she mentioned that made this happen was a multi-year strategy that was placed to accommodate a large number of students. She added that the new program focuses on building the systems of the government so they can handle the response, budget, and the information system. She concluded by saying that they are strengthening the schools so they are able to handle their financing and autonomy independently.

Sanaa Awada, Expert, Ministry of Social Affairs, Lebanon stated that the ministry seeks to provide protection to the most vulnerable populations covering most Lebanese territories. She mentioned that in 2012, the Lebanese government adopted the strategy to support children under all forms of violence despite the fact that no budget was allocated for this strategy and the only Ministry which worked on this was the Ministry of Social Affairs. She added that with the emergence of armed conflict and trafficking, they set objectives to help deal with children facing such crisis. She continued to speak about the emergence of the Syrian crisis, where the Ministry launched a national strategy to protect children and women in Lebanon and to centralize the work of all subunits in Lebanon. She mentioned that centers known as SDCs have been established to listen to children and women who are victims and are currently still signing new contracts with NGO’s and CSO’s regarding child protection. She concluded by saying that they are also seeking to institutionalize the work of all CSOs and NGOs with the Ministry and are also seeking a partnership with the Italian government and other specialized agencies to provide free hotline services for women and children facing violence.

Anthony Mcdonald, Chief of Child Protection, UNICEF, Lebanon stated that around 80 to 88% of children in all social classes face violence or violent discipline. He added that as a result of the Syrian crisis, they have realized that the level of violence against children has increased. For example, he explains that child marriage has gone up three fold not only with Syrian girls but also with Lebanese. He claims that violence against children appears in the new transformative agenda and the sustainable development goals that all countries are signed up to. He also calculated that the economic cost of violence is 2% of the GDP and that it is an epidemic that should be addressed. He stressed that one of the roles of his organization, UNICEF, is to support governments and that is what they are doing with Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA National Plan). They worked together to come up with the equivalent of RACE program for child protection. He concluded by saying that they worked on strengthening the government’s ability to strengthen its capacity and handle its finances.

Expert Panel 2: Public-Private Partnerships to Multiply Capabilities
Dr .Rock-Antoine Mehanna, Dean, Faculty of Business Administration and Finance, Sagesse University moderated the second expert panel and introduced the speakers and posed his first questions to the first speaker.

Ziad Hayek, Secretary General, Higher Council for Privatization (HCP), Lebanon informed the audience and panel that as a refugee from the Lebanese war himself, he understands the plight of refugees on a very personal level. He stated that PPP is a very important means of dealing with the economic situation that we have. He added that infrastructure is needed very much in Lebanon as the government has historically invested only 4% on infrastructure as it doesn’t have enough money to do so. He informed the audience that while the government has been unable to pass legislation for PPP despite many attempts, PPP formal legislation is not required for implementation but it is required for best practice purposes.

Peter Mousley, Program Leader (Finance and Private Sector), Mashreq, World Bank stated that his organization fully recognizes the contributions of Lebanon and Jordan to the Syrian refugee crisis. He stated that one of Lebanon’s problems is that they don’t have grants, and only lend money based on interest rates. He mentioned the idea of using the money pledged in Washington ($1 billion as a grant) to build infrastructure and other initiatives. He concluded by saying that money is currently being generated and the World Bank is in the process of trying to identify projects with the government of Lebanon.

Dr. Fouad Zmokhol, President, Lebanese Businessmen Association (RDCL), Lebannon noted that the Lebanese private sector is paying a high price for the crisis. He added that they are trying to build up a certain growth, a certain investment in the face of this crisis and that the resilience of the private sector is a double edged weapon. He stated that as a country, Lebanon is responsible for any person in need on its territory, but this should be limited to the country’s capabilities. On a public and private level, he stated that the country cannot support 50% of the population on the ground as it surpasses current capability.

Toufic Dabbousi, President, Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Tripoli, Lebanon suggested that solutions need to be proposed to alleviate the effects of the crisis. He stated that around 40% of the prisoners in Lebanese prisoners are Syrians which means that criminality in Lebanon will expand with the continued influx and this doesn’t serve the interests of the country. He added that the international community is forced to work with the private sector in establishing functioning partnerships and generating job opportunities in agriculture and other sectors, especially with a semi-paralyzed Lebanese government. He noted that Tripoli and the north is a very promising region that has great potential to contribute greatly to the Lebanese economy.

During the discussion Mr. Hayek mentioned “people-first PPP” which include many projects where governments are able to exploit private land to employ thousands of people and this is creating very good results. He added that housing is another major problem that needs to be addressed and that the private sector can play a big role in this regard as well.

Dr. Zmokhol continued to say that the international community can help Lebanon grow its agriculture sector and help the people make better use of the land. He mentioned that a fund is needed to help Syrian SME's and micro-companies thrive to boost overall employment and growth.

Mr. Dabbousi agreed that the international community has to collaborate and work with the private sector as the sector has achieved many positive outcomes both in Lebanon and in foreign countries. The panel was concluded on this note.

Plenary Session 2: Impact of Refugees on Host Countries: Turning the Burden into Asset
Adib Nehme, Regional Advisor on Peace Building, ESCWA was the moderator for the second plenary session and introduced all the esteemed speakers.

H.E. Elias Bou Saab, Minister of Education, Lebanon noted that there has been some disagreement regarding the correct term to use - whether displaced people or refugees. He continued to say that he considers Syrians in Lebanon as displaced and not refugees, because refugees have different rights and are usually political refugees. They are displaced because they were forced to leave their homes due to violence and conflict he explained. He mentioned that RACE was the first plan that used Lebanese public schools as much as possible as they have been trying their best in the last two years to see how they can absorb as many students as possible without having a negative impact on the education sector. However, during the last four years, he stated that it stopped them from being able to improve their curriculum and the education sector as a whole. He added that public schools in Lebanon are not adequately equipped to deal with such circumstances which is why they require the assistance and partnership of the international community. He concluded by saying that there are serious parties and stakeholders that are really helping the education sector in Lebanon, however NGO's were only able to access and help 50% of these children.

Haneen Sayed, Program Leader (Human Development), World Bank, Lebanon stated that the shift between humanitarian and developmental approach is not actually a shift, but more of a continuum that goes back and forth. She cited literature that says that the influx of refugees can actually provide a positive impact to a host country by generating income and expanding the economy. The Lebanese economy wasn’t creating many jobs even before the Syrian crisis, and today the situation is worse she notes. She emphasized on the importance of multi-year planning and financing for ministries as essential as opposed to the humanitarian approach which is only year by year.

H.E. Yassine Jaber, Member of Parliament, Former Minister of Economy, Lebanon started off by saying that we have to look at the scenario as a whole, at both the economic and political situation. He stated that with the Syrian crisis, we also experienced a political crisis in Lebanon which included the freezing of political institutions and that the parliament is in a state of paralysis. He said that as parliament, they are currently unable to play the role they should be playing. He mentioned how some countries in Europe are complaining about receiving 20,000-30,000 displaced people and that they have much more stable economies and governments. In this sense, what does it say about the current situation in Lebanon he asks? He stated that Lebanon currently has 1.2-1.5 million Syrians who need assistance, if the situation prolongs there will be an additional 4 million Lebanese people who will also need assistance.

Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF Representative, Lebanon started by saying that at no point in time has the UN or its Secretary General sought to insinuate that Lebanon should absorb this population of Syrian refugees. She emphasized that UNICEF aims to support all children and not just Syrian children. She stated that while taking a rights-based approach you have to provide the same opportunities and rights to all children whether refugees or not.

Dr. Saban Kardas, President, ORSAM (Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies), Turkey noted that Turkey has been in a better position to address the challenges than other host countries; however it was faced with a big challenge nonetheless. He mentioned that Turkish policy had to go through many adjustments, and while it may look good externally -- inside is a different story. He continued to say that the initial welcoming environment and "open door policy” by Turkey contributed to the flow of refugees into the country and has encouraged many Syrians to come into Turkey. However, he adds that recently it has imposed stricter border policies on Syrian nationals. He stated that the first shock of the conflict has been absorbed, however there is still more to be done especially in regards to the developmental approach. He referred to a dilemma they are encountering which is making the refugees comfortable however not too comfortable where they become permanent residents. Another observation he mentioned was that the numbers of people coming into the country have stabilized, however on the Northern front the conflict is still ongoing which means that there could be future waves of refugees coming in. He also mentioned that Turkey has experienced a slightly positive economic and social impact because of its ability to absorb the shocks better than other countries and due to the larger size of the country. However, he adds that language barriers are much bigger than elsewhere which is not the case in Lebanon or in Jordan and this makes it harder to integrate Syrian children into their schools.

Day 2 – June 2, 2016

Opening Session
Dr. Antoine Haddad, CEO, HBC Consultancy Firm on Public Policy initiated the first session on the second day by welcoming all participants and attendees. He then introduced Dr. Tarek Mitri, Director, Issam Fares Institute, AUB, Lebanon.

Dr. Tarek Mitri started his speech by saying that a political solution in Syria is what will lead the Syrian refugees to return back to their country safely. Despite the refugees being a huge burden on Lebanon as a host country, he said that a large segment of the Lebanese population continue to assist and cooperate with them to their best ability. He stressed that a political solution for Syria requires more attention than is being given, disassociation means calling on the Lebanese, to a certain extent, to contribute to a political solution as well. A big barrier to reaching this type of solution is the failure to reach a ceasefire between various parties involved. He also discussed various humanitarian attempts to help the refugees such as the possible establishment of a no fly zone as proposed by Turkey or the establishment of safe or humanitarian zones. However, none of these solutions were implemented and the Syrians were left in the wind. Despite this, he states that the door is still not closed completely regarding the establishment of safe zones, which don’t require new military intervention and thus could still be implemented in the future.

Plenary Session 3 – Reconstruction of Syria: How does the Future Look Like?
H.E. Nassif Hitti, Ambassador, Head of Mission of the Arab League Mission in Paris moderated the first plenary session on the second day and initiated the discussion by introducing the first speaker in the session.

H.E. Raya Haffar Al Hassan, President, TSZE (Tripoli Special Economic Zone), Former Minister of Finance, Lebanon spoke about lessons learned from the Lebanon example that can be used in the case of Syria. The first lesson she mentioned was that it is never too early to start the reconstruction process, decision makers and experts have already started setting action plans to proceed with this process. She emphasized that the while lessons learned from Lebanon in terms of challenges faced and timeframes are very different, some lessons can still be shared and could be used in the Syria case. She outlined the fact that any reconstruction process should be accompanied by a comprehensive economic plan to be set for the long-term. This plan should tackle all the gaps in the economic system so as to be able to generate job opportunities in addition to engaging the private sector. The second lesson she mentioned is that the Syrian government should make efforts to attract investments through aid and soft loans. The third lesson is finding a mix between the respective roles of the private and public sectors that can help decrease public debts and accelerate the reconstruction process. The fourth lesson is the need to take into account all the social and civil factors so as to provide the Syrian people with basic services and particularly deal with poverty which is prevalent in the country. The fifth lesson is to work closely and cooperate with international organizations in order to avoid fragmentation and duplication of projects. A sixth lesson is we need to give a wide range of options for investors and donors as well as provide them with all flexibility needed. The final lesson she mentioned is the importance of establishing statistical infrastructures which will allow all social and economic studies to be based on scientific statistics that will accurately reflect the reality on the ground.

The second speaker Dr. Makram Sader, Secretary General, Lebanese Banks Association spoke about the importance of circulating currency in the banks of Syria. Another problem in Syria he also mentioned is the lack of remittances and money transfer, since 2011 until today the banking sector has witnessed a huge decrease in its deposits due to the decrease of exchange rates of the Syrian lira where 600 Syrian liras is now equivalent to 1 USD. The savings in Syrian banks has also decreased around 25% percent. He stressed that he hopes that with the return to Syrian markets, they will be accompanied by major companies and businessmen of Syria and continue to proceed together to reconstruct Syria together.

Khalid Abu-Ismail, Chief, Economic Development and Poverty Section, ESCWA stressed how we are witnessing the biggest human suffering since World War II with repercussions felt both regionally and internationally. This conflict has resulted in over $300 billion in total losses without even taking into account the huge loss of human life. He pointed out that the policies of targeting poverty and other social policies have not achieved anything significant thus far. He stressed that a policy that addresses poverty is essential when talking about setting future economic plans. The final point he made is the need to focus on industry and rebuilding the industrial sector.

Jihad Yazigi, Editor-in-Chief, Syria Report mentioned how when people look at the news in Syria they assume that everything is destroyed, but that is not the reality. There are many refineries that are still operating and those that are not operating are only not doing so because they don’t have sufficient gas not because they have been targeted. He stated that we must think about reconstruction in Syria with limited financial capabilities as we don’t know who will finance this reconstruction based on the outcome of the war. He continued to say that most of the natural resources of Syria are located in regions that are not under government control. He posed the question: Can there be reconstruction happening in the various regions of Syria without the presence of a central government? In this regard, he concluded by saying comprehensive reconstruction for the long-term will be facing many challenges however there is still hope it can be achieved.

Dr. Abdul Ilah Mikati, Chairman, Board of Trustees of Azm University, Lebanon stressed that repercussions of this conflict can be felt on all levels and all over the world. He spoke about the importance of remembering Tripoli and the essential rebuilding and reconstruction of Tripoli as well as in Syria. He added that in order for peace to prevail, the establishment of a safe zone in Syria under the United Nations, could provide a temporary solution and relieves the burden from neighboring countries. He also pointed out that we should consider Tripoli as a launching pad to rebuild Syria as it was always regarded as a geographical expansion of Syria. He concluded by talking about the various humanitarian efforts the Azm Foundation has conducted both before and after the war in Syria.

Expert Panel 3: Syria at War: Impact on Syrians and Neighboring Countries
Jihad Yazigi, Editor-in-Chief, Syria Report moderated the third expert panel and introduced the first speaker.

Denise Sumpf, Chief, Economic Governance and Planning Section, ESCWA presented a presentation on the impact of the Syria crisis on Lebanon . She stated that the economic losses due to the crisis in Syria have exceeded 7.5 billion since March 2011. Trade relations are also effected by the crisis and there is a circulated loss per Lebanese exporter to Syria in 2012 of approximately $90,000. Unemployment rates have also seen growth with an increasing proportion of youth affected.

Dr. Ferhat Pirincci, Academic Coordinator, Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), Turkey spoke about the various initiatives currently taking place that have been successful in alleviating the suffering of Syrian refugees. A new institution was established in Turkey which deals with the needs of not only Syrians, but all foreigners in Turkey. He stated that only 0.03% of prisoners in Turkey are Syrian nationals in comparison to over 25% in Lebanese prisons. Quotas were set by the government for Syrians to work in Turkish cities which further helped alleviate the social impact of the crisis.

Dr. Fouad Fouad, MD and Assistant Professor, AUB, Aleppo University (Formerly) spoke about the health sector and healthcare in the framework of development. He said that even under the organization of ISIS there is an informal system of healthcare which exists. The humanitarian response system needs to take into consideration issues like the disease profiles that refugees carry and bring with them into Lebanon.

Khalid Abu-Ismail, Chief, Economic Development and Poverty Section, ESCWA presented a report conducted by ESCWA that addresses the root causes of the problem, the current situation including the various sectors (education and health) that have been affected by the crisis, and measures that have been taken by the international community to better address the issue. He concluded by speaking about steps for the way forward in Syria.

Expert Panel 4: Integration of Youth Programs in the Response Plans
Ziad Abdel Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) moderated the fourth expert panel and introduced the distinguished panelists. He inaugurated by stating that there is a whole Syrian generation that has been scattered for more than 5 years which has caused a huge gap in education and that this expert panel should come up with recommendations on launching specific youth programs for this marginalized group.

Umut Kumru, Specialist at the Disaster and Emergency Authority (AFAD) in Turkey gave a presentation on his organization’s work with Syrian refugees on Turkish territories. He stated that Turkey is using every means available to provide humanitarian support to Syrians and Syrians sheltered in protection centres run by the government benefit from various services. Camp management organization involves a Syrian governor and camp community manager who is elected by the Syrians in those centres in a democratic manner. The organization also has an Aid distribution system called (ADAS) which makes sure delivery of items go where they are most needed. According to the United Nations, Turkey has spent 10 US million dollars on providing aid to Syrian refugees on their grounds.

Dr. Rouba Mhaissen, Founder and Director of the Sawa Foundation (UK) and the Sawa for Development and Aid (Lebanon) stated that youth is a main component in finding a solution to Syria’s unforeseeable future and spoke about the hardships that Syrian youth face in Lebanon. She mentioned that before 2016, most non-governmental organizations did not receive grants to implement projects related to youth, specifically education. However, more attention was given to this after international reports were released exposing the hardships that these groups face and how majority of male youth are encouraged to join Jihadist groups to find legitimacy for their life elsewhere. Furthermore, she added that there must be a highlight on vocational training where youth are trained on different skills that they can employ in the future in order to live sustainably.

Dr. Fadi Daou, Chairman of Adyan Foundation highlighted the need to integrate youth programs in response plans and added that the reason that made youth carry arms in the first place is economic need and in the second place is the lack of educational opportunities with horizons. He stated that education is always addressed for those under the age of fifteen, however the needs of older age groups also need to be highlighted. These people will not be enablers to the society once the war ends because they did not have opportunities to pursue their education. Adyan Foundation’s core aim is rebuilding reconciliation and peace through good governance in the society, respecting the plurality and diversity of the society regarding all religions. He concluded by stating that Lebanon can be a platform for social and psychological security for those refugees and that the presence of refugees is a result of political and security difficulties hence the refugees should not be viewed as the problem or threat – they are the victims.