For Caritas director, Lebanon has more Syrian refugees than Europe, thus ending the war is the only solution
The number of refugees in Lebanon equals half of its population. That is like Italy having 30 million refugees. The Gulf States have done nothing, and their aid goes only to Muslims. For Caritas Lebanon director Fr Paul Karam, the refugee emergency can only end with peace in Syria. We need political dialogue without excluding anyone, even Bashar Assad.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – For Fr Paul Karam, director of Caritas Lebanon, “there is only one way to stop the flow of refugees: ending the war in Syria,” without excluding anyone, including Assad. In four years, he and his fellow Lebanese have seen the country’s population swell by 1.5 million Syrian refugees. This has led to demographic, security, economic and political imbalances.

Sadly, the international community is indifferent, ignoring the weapons and funds flowing to terrorists. Incapable of working for the common good, it has left every country in the region pursue its own self-interest rather than the former.

His advice to Europe is to find a way to achieve peace in Syria, without excluding anyone. Father Karam’s full interview follows.

Europe is facing an almost epochal crisis with all refugees - mostly Syrians - who are pressing on its doorstep. This has led to a display of generosity, but also inadequacies and closures. Many complain that there are too many refugees. How is the comparison with Lebanon?

When it comes to refugees, let me say right away that there is only one way to stop their flow: end the war in Syria. If we stop the war, the supply of weapons, the financing of terrorism, everything can be controlled. This task falls on the international community.

For the rest, I understand very well what some European countries are facing with the constant flow of people fleeing war. We have been living this tragedy for four years and we are still deep in it.

Lebanon has more than a million and a half refugees from Syria: 1.2 million who are registered, and those who are unregistered. In addition, we have at least half a million Palestinians. So we have almost 2 million refugees on top of a population of 4.5 million. Lebanon’s refugees are approximately half of the local population! Imagine that Italy, instead of 150,000, had to accommodate 30 million refugees!

Lebanon is engaged in a truly heroic act of welcoming all these people, especially if we compare it to other countries that have more land, economic wealth and people.

The issue is also important for the future. The arrival of a large number of refugees causes shocks and demographic, security, economic and political imbalances. . . .

I do not know if Europe will be able to cope with the problems that will follow, like more crime (as is the case in Lebanon). We cannot go on like this, finding money for weapons and fighting, etc. but failing to find a way to stop all of the wars in the Middle East.

Not all countries of the region are as welcoming as Lebanon.

This is true. Why only some European countries welcome refugees and not others? The Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia have not agreed to take them. This is a question the international community should ask itself. No one can just give some money to help the host country, and then wash its hands.

We at Caritas help everyone, Christians and Muslims. The Gulf States donate to Islamic foundations, which help needy Muslims.

A few days ago, I read that Saudi Arabia had accepted 500 refugees, but in reality, they were only economic migrants, workers, not refugees.

We should also clarify who the refugees are. As Pope Francis put it so well: We must welcome foreigners, based on our capacity, based on every country’s capacity. Even Germany had to stop the flow of refugees because its facilities are being overwhelmed. What should Lebanon say since the number of refugees correspond to a third of its own population?

For four years, the international community said, “Do not worry, we can help.” So far, this has not solved anything. It is necessary to negotiate with Assad, hold talks to end this war, and find a more suitable peace.

The refugee issue is closely linked to Assad. Several European countries (like France and Great Britain) only blame Assad for the refugee situation. The Gulf States do the same. Even the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation blames Assad for the refugees’ plight.

We have to look at the overall situation, at the path to end the war in Syria. We have already seen the result of war in Iraq and Libya, of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia . . . I do not understand why the international community does not understand that it is not enough to change the leader, or get rid of Assad, to fix things in Syria. After him, who will come? It is important that the international community ask itself about the future of these countries.

What are the real emergencies?

We operate in very difficult conditions. The UN High Commission for Refugees has cut aid for lack of funds. The same goes for the World Food Programme

How can a small country like Lebanon cope with such a huge problem? Things cannot go on like this. The international community has to address the situation. And the solution is peace, negotiations, without excluding anyone, not even Assad.

Who will come after Assad? Daesh? The group that has killed many Christians and Muslims and led to their exodus from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain? Is this a solution? Is this the Arab Spring?

Even if the Assad regime were to be removed, problems will remain. Who is selling weapons in the Middle East? Who is selling Daesh’s oil through Turkey? Who is funding fundamentalist militias?

In this war, every country seems to be pursuing its own interest. Lebanon and Jordan are the victims. We are stuck with the problem of how to feed all these refugees, finding schools for them, providing medical care and sanitation. But now the international community is saying, “Sorry! We do not have money. Do you your best.”

It is urgent to end the war, sit around a table, without excluding anyone, to work out a real peace. I hope the international community is interested in the common good and not in that of one or other power. The Middle East is being throttled. It needs real peace, not failure.