EU Unveils €1 Billion Aid Package for Lebanon Amid Migration Surge

EU aid package Lebanon
Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, center, speaks during his meeting with Cyprus’ President Nikos Christodoulides, left, and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
The European Union has unveiled a significant aid package of 1 billion euros, approximately $1.06 billion, for Lebanon. This allocation aims primarily to reinforce border control measures to curb the influx of asylum seekers and migrants from Lebanon to Cyprus and Italy, amidst the country’s ongoing crisis.

This move by the EU aligns with previous efforts to provide financial assistance to countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Mauritania to bolster their border security. Notably, Lebanon has witnessed a surge in irregular migration, particularly of Syrian refugees to Cyprus.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the aid during her visit to Beirut alongside Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides.

The aid, to be distributed between this year and 2027, is designated primarily to support Syrian refugees and vulnerable groups in Lebanon. Additionally, a portion of the funds, around 200 million euros, will be allocated to enhance Lebanese security services for border and migration control.

Part of the aid will also be directed towards supporting Lebanese fishermen, discouraging them from selling their boats to smugglers. Von der Leyen highlighted the EU’s commitment to exploring structured approaches in cooperation with the UN refugee agency for the voluntary return of refugees to Syria.

She emphasized the need for international support for humanitarian projects in Syria and reiterated Europe’s commitment to maintaining legal pathways for refugee resettlement.

Lebanon’s Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati welcomed the aid package, stressing the interconnectedness of Lebanon’s security with that of European nations. He warned that any escalation related to the refugee crisis would have regional and international repercussions.

Lebanon, grappling with a severe financial crisis since 2019, hosts a significant refugee population, including nearly 785,000 registered Syrian refugees and many more unregistered individuals, making it the highest per capita refugee population globally. Lebanese officials have long called for international assistance in resettling refugees or facilitating their voluntary return to Syria.

Tensions surrounding the refugee issue have escalated, particularly following the recent killing of a Lebanese Forces party official by a Syrian gang. This incident led to outbreaks of anti-Syrian violence, exacerbating existing tensions.

Meanwhile, Cyprus has faced challenges stemming from a surge in irregular migration, with many asylum seekers arriving by boat from Lebanon. Cypriot authorities have implemented stringent measures to halt this influx, including suspending the processing of Syrian asylum applications and facing accusations of forcibly pushing back asylum seeker boats.

Christodoulides hailed the EU’s aid announcement as a “historic day” and urged European officials to designate certain areas in Syria as safe for refugee return, emphasizing the unsustainable nature of the current situation for Lebanon, Cyprus, and the EU.

This funding announcement precedes the annual fundraising conference for the Syrian crisis in Brussels, as donor fatigue persists amid competing humanitarian crises worldwide.

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