BEIRUT — Syrian refugees will be able to withdraw their cash assistance payments in dollars by the end of May, UNHCR told L'Orient Today on Tuesday. The payments have been made in Lebanese lira since the onset of the economic crisis in Lebanon more than three years ago.
"Cash assistance provided to vulnerable persons in Lebanon, both Lebanese and refugees, should reflect the increasingly deteriorating situation with a view to ensure that minimum survival standards are fulfilled," UNHCR spokesperson Paula Barrachina told L'Orient Today on Tuesday.
"Given the current operational challenges — including the depreciation of the local currency and the strain on the financial service provider in supplying large volumes of cash in LBP bank notes — the United Nations consulted with relevant counterparts on a sustainable solution to ensure that assistance provided to refugees remains effective and the delivery manageable. During these consultations, it became clear that the most appropriate solution under the current circumstances will be to enable refugees to redeem their cash assistance either in USD or LBP," Barrachina added.
Over more than three years of economic crisis, the lira has lost more than 98 percent of its value against the US dollar, and the exchange rate on the parallel market is currently around LL94,000 to the dollar, over 62 times the pre-crisis rate of LL1,507.5.
Prior to the financial crisis in Lebanon, refugees in receipt of cash assistance from the UN to buy food and basic necessities were receiving $27 per person per month.
Since the onset of the crisis, contrary to the common perception in Lebanon that refugees receive international assistance in dollars, the payments have been made in Lebanese lira at varying exchange rates.
When the decision to pay refugees in dollars goes into effect, a family receiving both food and non-food cash assistance will — depending on which program they are enrolled in — receive $25 per family for non-food needs and/or $20 per family member for food needs, capped at five members. This means a family of five or more members will receive a maximum of $125 per month.
Under the new system, families may also choose to withdraw their cash assistance in Lebanese lira at an exchange rate close to the parallel market rate.
UNHCR told L'Orient Today that "assistance is based on needs, and, given financial constraints and need for prioritization, not all refugees receive assistance.”
The organization added that most families only receive partial assistance, covering either non-food or food items.
Before the decision was taken to disburse the aid in dollars, as of April 2022, some families were receiving LL1 million (about $35 at the current parallel market rate) per month, while others got LL500,000 (about $18) per person. Some families, but not all, received both payments. Prior to this, the aid amounts stood at LL800,000 per household or LL300,000 per person.
Lebanese nationals and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon benefiting from UNHCR cash assistance have been able to redeem the amounts given to them in either LBP or USD since the end of 2022, according to the UN organization.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar has previously opposed the idea of giving Syrian refugees aid in dollars, citing that this would create unfairness since public sector employees, who go on “constant strikes” due to the deterioration of the purchasing power of their salaries, are paid in lira.
In a meeting last month with United Nations representatives, Hajjar said that he "rejects any proposal that does not abide by the principle of justice and equality between the Lebanese and Syrian refugees."
The matter of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has resurfaced in recent weeks, with many of the country's political leaders once again calling for their repatriation. Meanwhile, human rights organizations continue to warn of the significant risks that face Syrian refugees deported or repatriated from Lebanon.