Thank you Prime Minister Salam for that welcome. I am delighted to be here on my first visit to Lebanon.
I wanted to come here today to see for myself the enormous challenges facing Lebanon as it shoulders the burden of refugees fleeing Syria and to understand what more we can do to help you.
And it has been an opportunity to talk to you, Prime Minister Salam, about how we can strengthen the relationship between our 2 countries. And I want to say a few words on both.
First, our bilateral relationship. Prime Minister, you are doing a difficult job in difficult times and the United Kingdom stands fully behind you and all who work to build a stable and secure country. The United Kingdom wants to see a strong, secure and prosperous Lebanon. We discussed the need to elect a new President and I share your view, Prime Minister, that Lebanon needs a President in order to move forward. A President who can lead and represent the country internationally, who can act as a partner to those like the UK who want to help Lebanon and who can work with you and other political leaders to advance political consensus and overcome the challenging circumstances facing your country.
We also discussed the threat both our countries face from Islamist extremism and what more we can do to work together to defeat this threat. Of course, that threat is more acute here with ISIL held territory just 60 miles from your border and that is why the UK is determined to do all we can to help strengthen the security of Lebanon. We have already provided training to over 5,000 Lebanese soldiers and helped to build a series of watchtowers on your borders with Syria. And today I can announce that we will continue that commitment to Lebanon, providing the right support where it is needed to train, equip and mentor the Lebanese armed forces.
Turning to refugees, I want to pay tribute to the immense generosity and resilience of the Lebanese people who have provided refuge for their Syrian neighbours for 4 years and more. This morning I was in the Bekaa Valley seeing for myself that hospitality and meeting with some of the Syrian refugees that we will resettle in the United Kingdom. I recognise that the humanitarian crisis in Syria is putting huge pressures on your country – on public services, on schools, on housing.
That’s why the United Kingdom has provided around £300 million in assistance for Lebanon since the crisis began, including food, shelter and medical support. And we will ensure that £29 million of our latest £100m commitment is spent right here in Lebanon, helping further to shoulder the burden. In particular, we will do all we can to ensure that both Lebanese and Syrian children get the education they deserve. That is vital for their future and for the future of this region. The way the Lebanese people have integrated Syrian children into their school system is truly remarkable and deserves the full and unwavering support of the international community.
That’s why we have already invested over £30 million here in education and today I can announce that we will be doubling our current commitment to £20 million a year for the next 3 years to help Syrian children in public schools. We will go on providing a full set of textbooks for every child in public school between the age of 6 and 15. And we will continue to use UK aid to support Lebanese communities – helping to protect jobs, build roads and improve water supply.
So this has been an important visit. It has been an opportunity to talk to you, Prime Minister, about the challenges facing the country; to see the work the United Kingdom is doing to help protect Lebanon from the threat of ISIL; to see the support that is being provided to refugees and communities in Lebanon and what more the international community can do; to meet with refugees who will be resettled in Britain and to talk to children who are starting school here today thanks to the UK aid we are spending here.
But above all, it has been an important opportunity to come and say thank you to the Lebanese people for all they are doing to shoulder the burden of refugees fleeing Syria and to reiterate our commitment to doing all we can to support them and Syrian refugees in the months ahead.