The AUB4Refugees second forum, organized and hosted by the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI), was held over two days, November 27-28, 2018, offering a platform to discuss the difference aspects of the Syrian refugee crisis’s impact on refugees themselves as well as host communities.
The AUB4Refugees Initiative was launched in September 2016 as a university-wide initiative to bring together AUB community members working on addressing the impacts of the Syrian refugee crisis. It aims at nurturing cooperation and building partnerships, on campus and beyond, to deal with the repercussions and effects of the refugee crisis. The initiative strives for impactful research, community-based teaching, and engaged practice. Every year, the AUB4Refugees Forum is held to showcase research projects and interventions that various AUB faculties, institutes, centers, and student clubs or societies have been carrying out in response to the protracted refugee crisis in Lebanon and abroad.
During the forum’s opening session, AUB President Fadlo Khuri said, “Lebanon—which provides protection and support to realistically a million and a half Syrian refugees, in addition to anywhere between a 175,000–500,000 Palestinian refugees, and 50,000 Iraqi refugees—has doubtless saved countless lives, and there’s a positive element to that.” However, as a country and as a university, “we can do better.”
“The protracted nature of the war, and the fact that some refugees have been in this country for more than seven years, indicates that we will have to do better,” continued Khuri. “It is exactly at times like these, the role of the American University of Beirut has to be larger, perhaps larger than we had previously imagined. As an institution, we have always rallied to the cause of vulnerable groups and those who are least fortunate.”
IFI Director Tarek Mitri spoke next stating that, “the process towards a global compact with refugees, almost reaching its completion, has clearly signaled the necessity of engaging academic institutions. AUB4Refugees responds to this invitation as it is meant to integrate individual research interests into a collective engagement.”
Mitri continued, “The real problems pertaining to the Syrian refugee problem are not only related to the means of assistance. The political failure lies in the inability of the international community to address the causes and root of the refugee problem. Many countries seem to be more preoccupied in containing the refugee movement at the expense of refugee protection until conditions for their voluntary and safe return are ripe.”
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Philippe Lazzarini also spoke at the opening session. He said, “There is something unique to Lebanon and the Lebanese who once more have demonstrated their ability to deal with the most extreme situations. I hardly can imagine any other country having such a high number of refugees per capita and showing such a high degree of acceptance and solidarity despite the anxiety and uncertainties this crisis has triggered. However, it is no secret that Lebanon is now stretched to its limits... both Syrians and Lebanese are facing deepening vulnerabilities and struggle to make ends meet.”
Lazzarini continued, “Even if the crisis ends today in Syria, Lebanon will need support in the transition phase. Meanwhile it is our collective responsibility to provide support to Syrian refugees to ensure them to live in dignity, while at the same time, we also continue to support Lebanon and the Lebanese to mitigate the impact of the crisis.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative Mireille Girard delivered the final speech at the forum’s opening session, saying that eight years since the beginning of the refugee crisis in Lebanon we are approaching a crossroads. Although Lebanon’s immense resilience to the Syrian crisis remained evident throughout 2018, host community fatigue is on the increase and the debate around the continued presence of the refugees and the need to see increased returns is rising. Girard added that self-organized or group returns facilitated by the General Security are taking place at a steady pace these days. Yet, return will be gradual for a large number of refugees, key obstacles to that return remain, and these must be tackled.
This year’s forum, titled Tackling Fatigue and Building Resilience for Refugees and Hosting Communities, was organized over six multi-disciplinary panels: tackling fatigue in host communities and among refugees; building resilience in health; building resilience in education; building resilient livelihoods; students reacting to the crisis; and future prospects for Syrian refugees, and the safe and voluntary return.
The forum was attended by representatives from the Lebanese government, NGOs, the United Nations, and civil society groups, who discussed ways to improve or enhance interventions that tackle the needs of refugee and host communities.