Journalists from major European newspapers recently joined their colleagues in the Lebanese media for a tour of Syrian refugee camps and Lebanese host communities.
The tour, conducted from November 27th to 29th, gave the press a first-hand look at humanitarian, educational and health projects funded by the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (MADAD Fund).
Among the participants were Georges Malbrunot of France's Le Figaro, Carolina Kamil of Denmark's Berlingske, Francesca Caferri of Italy's La Repubblica and Christopher Reuter of Germany's Der Spiegel.
The group was accompanied by a delegation of officials led by Caroline Van Nespen, of the media team working with MADAD, international aid and co-operation officer Jeremie Belleudy and Beirut programme manager Ryan Knox.
EU assistance to Lebanon
The EU's contributions to Lebanon since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis have exceeded 1.6 billion euros ($1.8 billion), Knox told Al-Mashareq.
Since late 2014, he said, MADAD has financed huge projects to address education, health, social and economic needs, and infrastructure projects including water and sanitation, to benefit refugees and host communities.
MADAD funds humanitarian programmes with 518 million euros ($586 million) and supports Lebanese institutions with 305 million euros ($345 million) to help them provide basic services, he said.
To date, he added, 520 million euros ($589 million) has been spent on formal and informal education for Syrian refugees and host communities, as well as training, health and other services.
The tour included field visits to a number of projects, including the Ministry of Social Affairs’ Development Services Centre in Burj al-Barajneh, a suburb of west Beirut.
Ministry official Fernand Abu Haidar, centre director Rana al-Mahdi, UNICEF representative in Lebanon Tanya Chapuisat and representatives of the KAFA Association and the Amel Foundation described the services offered by the ministry's 221 centres throughout Lebanon.
The centres provide Syrian refugees and Lebanese nationals with health care, educational programmes, social services and psychological support, they said.
The group also visited the Keyfoun community centre, where Terre des Hommes Italy (TDH-IT) is implementing a literacy programme titled "Back to the Future" in co-operation with the Dutch organisation War Child Holland and UNICEF.
TDH-IT director Nika Farnworth told Al-Mashareq the European press tour was "an opportunity to showcase the educational services we offer to these children at our centres to help them attend formal schools".
"We receive 900 children a week ranging in age from 4 to 14, who attend literacy, numeracy, English and math courses," she said.
Better access to water
In the northern Bekaa Valley town of al-Ain, the delegation was briefed on the 'Miyahkun' (Your water) project, which aims to ensure better access to water.
The MADAD-funded project is being implemented by the Italian Gruppo di Volontariato Civile (GVC), the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP) and the Arab Countries Water Utilities Association (ACWUA).
It has included the construction of a water purification plant and reservoirs and a fixed water distribution network, which has been connected to homes and shops.
Water usage meters have been installed and bill collectors have been trained, encouraging residents to subscribe to the Bekaa Water Establishment.
The project has provided access to water to al-Ain and neighbouring towns, including Zboud, Nabi Osman, al-Labweh, Bejjajeh and Tawfiqiyeh. It has benefitted a total of 45,000 people, of whom 2,000 are Syrian refugees.
GVC volunteer Ahmed Hamiyeh explained that "the project addressed the decades-long problem of lack of water and water infrastructure in the region, and built a relationship between residents and state institutions".
"I used to buy water, and now this service is provided to us through the Miyahkun project," said Zboud Sultan al-Moussa, a Syrian refugee from al-Salamiyah in rural Hama who lives in a cluster of tents.
"The landowner provided us with the meter, and the consortium of international organisations provides us with the water in a systematic manner," he told Al-Mashareq.
"We get clean water for an annual subscription of 250,000 Lebanese pounds ($165)", he said.
Education and health care
At the Bar Elias Public Primary School in the Bekaa Valley, the group visited an afternoon session of formal education, which is devoted to Syrian refugee students who could not find a place in the morning session classes.
Sonia Khoury, who directs the Ministry of Education and Higher Education's project management unit, described the ministry's plan to educate the largest possible number of Syrian students in Lebanon.
This plan is being implemented in co-operation with UNICEF.
The group also visited al-Nahda charity clinic in Miniyeh, north of Tripoli, to learn about the primary health care programme serving refugee and host communities.
The programme is offered in MADAD-funded health centres and charity clinics in co-operation with the Ministry of Public Health and the International Medical Authority.
The tour concluded with a visit to the Caritas centre in Dahr al-Ain al-Koura to survey a project providing social support and developing the capacities of Lebanese and refugee youth.
This project is being implemented in a number of areas by Caritas, the Lebanese Red Cross and World Vision International.
Conveying the suffering of refugees
The media tour, which began at Jordan's al-Zaatari refugee camp, "was important in order to get a sense of the magnitude of the Syrian refugee crisis and its consequences for the refugees", said George Malbrunot of Le Figaro.
"I got the impression that they are confused and hope to return to their home country, but they are waiting until conditions are safe for them to return," he told Al-Mashareq.
Malbrunot said Lebanon is "hosting them and providing them with whatever resources it has available, and the EU is helping the refugees and host communities by funding projects that can be described as very useful and necessary".
"I will explain what is taking place in my reporting, and I will seek to convey the suffering of both the refugees and their host communities, the conditions under which they live and the heavy burden they bear," he said.
"We are facing a massive crisis, and no one has a magic wand to solve it."