BEIRUT: Syria’s war and the refugee crisis it triggered are at real risk of exploding across the Middle East, the UN refugee agency said on Friday, on the second anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres also urged the world to strive to end the conflict and to step up humanitarian aid, calling it a “morale obligation” and “essential to preserve global peace and global security.”
“I believe that if the Syrian conflict goes on and on and on, there is a real risk of an explosion in the Middle East, and then there will be no way to cope with the challenge from the humanitarian, political and security perspective,” said Guterres.
Guterres — in Lebanon on the last leg of a regional tour that also took him to Jordan and Turkey — raised the alarm over the potential security impact the refugee crisis could have on Syria’s neighbours.
“The Syrian crisis is not just another crisis, and what we are dealing with now is that the Syrian crisis is a tipping point,” he told reporters.
“Things get much worse before they get better. Not only do they get much worse in Syria, but they can have a very, very big impact on the countries around.”
Citing what he said was a financing gap of $700 million, Guterres also called on governments to unlock extraordinary funds to support the refugees and the countries that host them.
“There is no way a gap of this magnitude can be filled with current humanitarian budgets,” he said.
Guterres said that the Syrian conflict threatens Lebanon’s existence.
“The international community should recognise that the Syrian crisis represents an existential threat to Lebanon and should show Lebanon much stronger support than has happened until now,” he told reporters in Beirut.
Humanitarian organisations have only received 30 per cent of the funds required to cover basic needs.
“I think it is in the interest of everybody to solve the conflict, to have a political solution to the conflict, but it is also in the interest of everybody to fully address the humanitarian needs.”
The United Nations says more than 1.1 million Syrians have fled mostly to Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, and some four million others have been displaced inside their war-torn country.
Meanwhile, Syria has warned it may strike at rebels hiding in Lebanon if the Lebanese army does not act, the state news agency Sana said on Friday.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry told its Lebanese counterpart late on Thursday that a “large number” of militants had crossed Lebanon’s northern border into the Syrian town of Tel Kalakh over the past two days, Sana said.
“Syria expects the Lebanese side to prevent these armed terrorist groups from using the borders as a crossing point, because they target Syrian people and are violating Syrian sovereignty,” the diplomatic cable said.
It said Syria’s “patience is not unlimited,” even though “Syrian forces have so far exercised restraint from striking at armed gangs inside Lebanese territory.”
Fighting near the border resulted in a large number of casualties, Sana said, before the gunmen retreated into Lebanon.
Lebanon has a policy of “dissociation” from the two-year civil war in Syria but officials say they feel their country is increasingly at risk of being dragged into the conflict.