Beirut and its people have a long and impressive history of welcome, solidarity and centuries-old traditions of support to refugees coming from the neighbouring countries.
At a time when an increasing number of countries globally struggled to host refugees, Lebanon stands tall, promoting diversity, openness and compassion. Lebanon is one of the countries hosting the largest number of refugees per capita globally.
The huge port explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020, has left more than 200 people dead and over 5,000 people injured, shacked buildings and sent huge plumes of smoke into the sky.
Some of the areas severely affected by the powerful blast included neighbourhoods that hosted refugees. UNHCR has received initial reports that at least 34 refugees were reported dead, and at least 8 refugees are still missing, over 120 refugees were injured in the blast, 19 of whom severely.
UNHCR calls on the international community to stand by Lebanon, show solidarity and provide timely and meaningful support to Lebanon and Lebanese people who have been generous hosts to refugees and hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world
We are working closely with the rescue teams and other humanitarian workers to help with identification and support to grieving families.
This massive explosion adds to the already severe economic crisis that had pushed many Lebanese and refugees deeper into poverty, further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNHCR is on the ground supporting a rapid humanitarian shelter needs assessment, prioritising the most affected areas, mobilising emergency weatherproofing materials and supporting repair and rehabilitation efforts. The needs are massive.
The Shelter situation is particular acute, with families needing a place to stay and urgent support in securing and in repairing their homes. UNHCR is mobilising its in-country stocks of shelter kits, plastic sheets, rub-halls, and tens of thousands of other core relief items including blankets and mattresses for immediate distribution and use.
The crisis has impacted everyone, regardless of nationalities and status. The humanitarian response is aimed at all those affected, particularly the most destitute.
The immediate humanitarian efforts in Lebanon is focused on three key areas — shelter, health and protection and we ensure to make it available for all those affected in the areas around the blast and the response efforts are aimed for all.
Increased COVID-19 risk
Covid-19 infections may increase in Lebanon in the aftermath of the Beirut blast. UNHCR response for COVID-19 is continuing in this latest emergency. A first phase of expanding hospital bed and ICU capacity including with medical supplies and equipment, ventilators, and patient beds was completed last week.
A second phase is being expedited in light of the saturation of hospitals. This support will help decrease the pressure on the currently overwhelmed hospitals and allow more patients to be treated promptly. These additional capacities are available to all those in need.
Protection is another critical area of intervention in the current emergency response, particularly mental health and psychosocial support.
Our reception centres across the country, including in Beirut, are open for critical/emergency cases, with all COVID-related social distancing measures, and the national call Centre as well as regional hotlines across the country been fully manned to respond to requests for assistance.
UNHCR is working closely with community organisations in Lebanon to identify persons in need, provide psychological first aid, help identify missing persons and make referrals for additional assistance and services.
UNHCR calls on the international community to stand by Lebanon, show solidarity and provide timely and meaningful support to Lebanon and Lebanese people who have been generous hosts to refugees and hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world.
Nadia Jbour is the Head of UNHCR office in the UAE