Lebanon has been particularly hard hit by the effects of the Syria Conflict. The country has taken in some 1.3 million refugees: a number equivalent to one quarter of Lebanon's total population.
Among the goals of Switzerland's commitment under the Swiss Cooperation Strategy for the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq) from 2015 to 2018 was to support host states in providing the capacities that were needed to respond to the challenges of the refugee situation (resilience) and that are vital to the future prospects of the refugees and the local population. In this context, Switzerland is bringing together various tools for the first time to enhance the coherence and effectiveness of its commitment. Today, during his stay in Beirut, Mr Burkhalter visited two projects Switzerland is supporting as part of this strategy.
The focus of his visit to the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) emergency aid centre was the goal of ensuring that everybody can live in peace and security: a priority set out in the Swiss Foreign Policy Strategy 2016–19. The LRC, which has been one of Switzerland's strategic partners for 10 years now, is responsible for many humanitarian tasks in Lebanon to this end, ranging from emergency aid for the population and for refugees from Syria to low-threshold access to preventive healthcare and transportation of disabled people and natural disaster prevention at local level.
Visiting the Tahaddi Centre in Hay Al-Gharbeh, a deprived neighbourhood in the south of the Lebanese capital, Mr Burkhalter spoke with young people about their problems, needs and future prospects. This centre, which is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), comprises an education centre running courses both for boys and girls and for adults, and a health centre for healthcare provision. Since 2008, thanks to the SDC support, around 350 children have attended educational courses at the Tahaddi Centre and some 2,000 families have received healthcare assistance. Swiss support has also enabled other local organisations such as Masar, Basmeh w Zeitouneh (BwZ) and Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation (GKCF) to offer education and basic healthcare and also launch dialogue processes in many towns. With the aid of the FDFA's Human Security Division (HSD), Masar for example works with groups of youngsters to devise strategies to resolve disputes without resorting to violence. The purpose of these dialogue processes is to raise young people's awareness of human rights, political involvement and prejudice- and discrimination-related issues, enabling them to become agents of change in their environment. The SDC assists GKCF with pre-school education in a number of refugee camps and cooperates with BwZ to offer vocational training courses and courses on how to set up one's own business. With a combination of the various international cooperation tools at its disposal, Switzerland can very much tailor its support in Lebanon to the requirements on the ground. This approach also underpinned the Dispatch on International Cooperation 2017–2020, which sets out an overarching framework for humanitarian aid, peacebuilding, development cooperation and cooperation with Eastern Europe, thereby making synergies possible and increasing the effectiveness of the work carried out.
Bilateral meeting with the Lebanese foreign minister
As well as visiting these projects, Mr Burkhalter took the opportunity provided by his stay in Beirut to hold bilateral talks with Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil. Here again the refugee situation, support for Lebanon in consolidating its resilience and the options for opening up prospects for refugees close to home were the centre of attention, along with combating violent extremism. Mr Burkhalter and Foreign Minister Bassil also discussed bilateral affairs, including the regular policy consultations planned in future between Switzerland and Lebanon following an agreement signed in April 2016.
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