British Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon on Monday, saying increased aid would help stem a major migration crisis in Europe.
The visit, which included talks with Lebanon’s prime minister, came as Cameron appointed a minister to oversee the resettlement of 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain over the next five years.
As Cameron arrived, his office issued details of how an additional 100 million pounds ($153 million, 137 million euros) in British aid for Syrian refugees, announced last week, would be spent.
And in Beirut, Cameron said Britain was doubling its support for Lebanon’s schools to 20 million pounds a year for the next three years to help them teach Syrian refugee children as well as Lebanese.
He said boosting aid to countries hosting refugees was key to tackling a migration crisis that has seen tens of thousands of people flooding into Europe seeking asylum.
“Around three percent of the 11 million Syrians forced from their homes have sought asylum in Europe,” Cameron said.
“Without British aid, hundreds of thousands more could be risking their lives seeking to get to Europe, so these funds are part of our comprehensive approach to tackle migration from the region.”
Britain last week announced it would spend an additional 100 million pounds on Syrian refugees, 40 million of which will go to UN and other non-governmental groups working with refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Nearly two-thirds of that 40 million pounds will be spent in Lebanon, which is hosting more than 1.1 million refugees despite having a population of just four million citizens.
Cameron’s lightning visit included a stop at an informal refugee camp outside the town of Terbol in the Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon.
“I’m at a refugee camp in Lebanon, hearing some heartbreaking stories,” Cameron tweeted as he met refugees who will be resettled in Britain.
Cameron said he wanted “to see for myself and to hear for myself stories of refugees and what they need”.
– ‘Huge pressure’ on Lebanon –
British embassy officials said Cameron also stopped at a school outside Beirut to see the effects of UK support for Lebanon’s education sector.
At a press conference after meeting his Lebanese counterpart Tammam Salam, Cameron acknowledged that the “humanitarian crisis in Syria is putting huge pressure” on Lebanon.
He said he wanted to witness “the enormous challenge facing Lebanon as it shoulders the burden of refugees fleeing Syria.”
A fact sheet issued by his office detailed plans for British support to Lebanon, including food packages and vouchers for refugees, counselling for children and adults, and help for Lebanese municipalities hosting Syrians.
“Without our investment in international development, the numbers of people seeking to embark on a perilous journey to Europe would be far greater,” Cameron said.
Salam said Lebanon was “grateful for this help which needs to be continued and expanded in view of the deteriorating conditions” for refugees in the country.
“We believe that the refugee problem that has reached the heart of Europe will not stop spreading until a political solution to stop the war in Syria is reached,” he added.
As Cameron arrived in Lebanon, his office announced he had named Richard Harrington to a new junior ministerial post in charge of overseeing Syrian refugee resettlement.
The British premier has been under pressure internationally and domestically to address the refugee crisis.
Britain has accepted 216 Syrian refugees over the past year and granted asylum to less than 5,000 since the conflict broke out in 2011 — far fewer than other European countries like France, Germany and Sweden.
In total, more than four million Syrians have fled abroad as the conflict has left more than 240,000 people dead.