Lebanese CB calls on world to do more to overcome refugee burden
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Lebanese CB calls on world to do more to overcome refugee burden

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Lebanon is angry because it is a small, highly-indebted country that has been left to deal with the influx of a million Syrian refugees without sufficient support from the rich countries that are engaged in the conflict

Salamé: rich countries seem ‘fatigued’

Lebanon’s central bank governor has lambasted rich countries for failing to do enough to help the Middle Eastern countries that have received most refugees from the war in Syria.

Riad Salamé, governor of Banque du Liban since 1993, told GlobalMarkets that although multilateral development banks “treated Lebanon well”, governments needed to do more to ease the burden of more than a million Syrian refugees who are in Lebanon. 

In Lebanon one in five people are refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on October 8. In Jordan — to where over 650,000 Syrians have fled — one in 15 are refugees. 

“The international community is not doing enough,” said Salamé. “On the contrary, we feel that there is fatigue from the countries that were really supporting the refugees.

“They [the international community] need to get involved, because they are asking host countries to look after these people to avoid them emigrating to Europe or the US.”

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has promised Lebanese president Michel Aoun he will organise a donor conference to encourage investment in Lebanon, but the sheer scale of the refugee burden means Salamé fears not enough is being done.

The direct budgetary cost of the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is around $1bn, which is creating more of a fiscal deficit than the country can afford, says Salamé.

However, including the opportunity cost from lower growth caused by the influx, Salamé puts the cost of the Syrian war for the Lebanese economy at $15bn over the last five years. 

IMF supports plea

This week the IMF reiterated the importance of more support for the countries in the region that had received most refugees. “It is crucial that the international community pursues its assistance both to Lebanon and Jordan as well as the refugee community in order to lift some of the burden on those countries,” Jizad Azour, director of the fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department, told GlobalMarkets.

GDP growth is expected to remain subdued in these two countries. Jordan’s economy will expand just 2.3% in 2017 and 2.5% next year, the IMF predicted in this week’s World Economic Outlook, while Lebanon will see growth of just 1.5% this year and 2% in 2018.

Lebanon’s central bank puts the growth estimate higher — at 2.5% this year — while the World Bank has it at 2%. “We do not have the support that Lebanon deserves because it is a small, highly-indebted country and we cannot be left to solve this huge problem by ourselves,” said Salamé.

The Lebanese government is hoping to raise around $1.5bn of concessional financing per year for a 10 year infrastructure plan including transport, power and water projects.

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