UN plans to cut number of refugees receiving cash aid in Lebanon by a third, citing funding cuts

BEIRUT (AP) — Faced with an increasing funding crunch, the United Nations will cut the number of refugee families receiving cash assistance in Lebanon by nearly a third next year, a spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency said Thursday.

Due to “significant funding reductions,” UNHCR and the World Food Program will give monthly cash aid to 88,000 fewer families in 2024 than in 2023, UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said.

About 190,000 families will continue receiving the assistance, which is capped at a monthly maximum of $125 per household, she said.

In the past, some families received extra assistance in the winter months for heating fuel expenses, but this year that program will also be halted, Abou Khaled said. That aid “was critical for vulnerable families to survive the winter season,” she said.

Lebanon, which has been in the throes of a severe financial crisis since 2019, hosts some 790,000 registered Syrian refugees and potentially hundreds of thousands more who are unregistered, the highest population of refugees per capita in the world. About 90% of Syrian refugees in the country are living below the extreme poverty line.

Syria’s uprising-turned civil war, now in its 13th year, has killed nearly half a million people, displaced half of its prewar population of 23 million and crippled infrastructure in both government and opposition-held areas.

Recent months have seen a substantial uptick of violence in the largely frozen conflict, but international attention has largely turned away from Syria to the conflict in Ukraine and now to the Israel-Hamas war.

UNHCR's Lebanon office has only received funds to cover 36% of its annual budget so far this year, while at the same time last year it was 50% funded, Abou Khaled said. The office has already cut staff and reduced programs this year and may make further cuts in 2024, she said.

Earlier this year, the U.N. slashed assistance to Syrian refugees in Jordan, also citing funding shortfalls.

Since Lebanon’s economic meltdown began in 2019, officials have increasingly called for a mass return of Syrians, saying they are a burden on the country’s scarce resources and that much of Syria is now safe, while human rights organizations have cited cases of returning refugees being detained and tortured.

Over the past year, the Lebanese army has deported hundreds of Syrians. Many of those were intercepted while entering the country at illegal crossing points, but others were registered refugees who had been living in the country for years.