Britain's Cameron visits Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 14, 2015 2:01 AM

By Sylvia Westall

BEIRUT (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Syrian refugees in neighboring Lebanon on Monday, a week after pledging that Britain would take in up to 20,000 people who are currently in camps after fleeing Syria's civil war.

Since 2011, the conflict in Syria has driven more than 4 million people into refugee camps in surrounding countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and many others towards Europe.

Lebanon, which currently hosts well over a million Syrians and where one person in every four people is a refugee, has called on other countries to share the burden.

Cameron is also under pressure from European counterparts to take in far more refugees to help with the wider migrant crisis, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people trek from Greece via the Balkans and Hungary towards western Europe.

He has said Britain will resettle people directly from the camps to discourage refugees from embarking on the often dangerous journey to mainland Europe.

Cameron visited refugees in one of the informal tented settlements in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where many live without easy access to electricity and clean water.

Speaking after a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart Tammam Salam in Beirut, Cameron praised the "immense generosity and resilience of Lebanese people" in dealing with the crisis.

"I was in the Bekaa Valley seeing for myself that hospitality and meeting some of the Syrian refugees that we will resettle in the United Kingdom," he said.

"I recognize that the humanitarian crisis in Syria is putting huge pressure on your country."

Salam said Lebanon is hosting as many as 1.5 million refugees. The United Nations refugee agency puts the figure at around 1.1 million.

The crisis in Europe has prompted some leaders to announce a greater refugee intake. Germany says it expects an estimated 800,000 people to arrive this year while Britain has said it will take in the 20,000 Syrians over the next five years.

The war has killed 250,000 people and forced half of all Syrians from their homes, creating the worst refugee crisis since World War Two.

Another 7.6 million people are displaced within the country.

Salam said Lebanon was struggling to cope with the influx from its much larger neighbor, especially given that some international aid had been cut.

"We are convinced that the refugee crisis which reached the crux of Europe today is a phenomenon that cannot come to a halt unless we find a political solution to put an end to the war in Syria," he said.

The two men also discussed the "threat of Islamist extremism," Cameron said, adding that Britain would continue its support to the Lebanese security services.

"Of course that threat is more acute here with ISIS-held territory just 60 miles from your border," Cameron said, referring to land held by Islamic State militants in Syria.

Britain has promised 100 million pounds ($154.5 million) to help Syrian refugees in several countries, with up to 29 million going to Lebanon.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)