I am very glad to be back in Lebanon. I have been here several times. I consider myself a friend of Lebanon and of the Lebanese people. I know I am visiting you at a very crucial period of your history. I was here two years ago and the numbers of refugees were less than 150,000 and now we have almost ten times that number and we understand fully the strains that this has on the Lebanese society. We admire your generosity in receiving such great numbers of refugees but we also understand that of course this leads to considerable consequences for communities in your country in terms of strains on health, schools, jobs and so forth. We will try to do our best to be helpful from the side of the United Nations. I am very glad that I will be later today joining the Prime Minister when the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan is being launched and that plan has both these elements: supporting refugees, as you call them displaced, and at the same time giving support to Lebanese communities. For us this reflects the basic belief that the security and integrity of Lebanon is a priority for the region and for the world. And we stand by and we will try to help as much as possible that the tragic conflict in Syria will not spread into Lebanese society. It has already spread to other parts of this region and we must do everything possible to avoid further damage.
I am also working very closely together with the group which is called the International Support Group for Lebanon which also aims to help build further the Lebanese Armed Forces which to us plays a very important role, a stabilizing force, a unifying force and I am very glad that both Speaker Berri and earlier (Lebanese Army Commander) Gen. (Jean) Kahwagi spoke very positively about the cooperation between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and UNIFIL. And paradoxically in today’s world this seems to be one of the most stable areas in the Middle East now, the south of Lebanon. But we will be there very much at your side and we hope very much that the United Nations will be seen by your people as a partner both in dealing with the huge refugee problem but also in helping support and build Lebanese communities in these moments of strain. We hope also in the end that we will also see a political solution. We must go to the root causes of the problem and our representative, Special Envoy for Syria (Staffan) de Mistura is working in the region. We will work very closely with regional partners to remind them of their responsibilities and hope that we will see a reduction of hostilities and movement in the direction of a political solution.
Finally, I want to say that I want to thank my colleague and friend (UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon) Derek Plumbly who has served now for almost three years in this country and will be replaced by Sigrid Kaag and we hope that she will be given the same warm reception and cooperation that my friend Derek Plumbly has received. But you should know that the United Nations is behind you, is at the side of the Lebanese people. We understand the strains on your society, we are impressed by your resilience and we hope that you will see an even brighter future. You have been brave, you have been courageous and we will be at your side. It is important for the world that we succeed together.
Thank you very much.