Aoun Steps up Calls for Return of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Published May 3rd, 2018 - 09:00 GMT
Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun (AFP/File Photo)
Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun (AFP/File Photo)

President Michel Aoun Wednesday stepped up his call for the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland as he appealed for intervention from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“He asked them for help because the international community has not responded to the Lebanese government’s request to facilitate the return of refugees,” a Baabda Palace source said.

Aoun requested the three Arab states’ help to secure the return of Syrian refugees to their country, “to stop their [sufferings] on the one hand, and, on the other, to end the repercussions of this displacement on Lebanon socially, economically, educationally and in terms of security,” a statement from the presidency said, after Aoun met with diplomats from the three countries.

During the discussions, the four spoke about developments in Lebanon and the region, including the refugee crisis.

The source suggested that these three Arab countries, in particular, have the ability to exert influence on the international community concerning this issue.

The president demanded that action be taken to put an end to competition in the Lebanese labor market – presumably in a reference to refugees – and to protect the country’s productive sectors.

But it remained unclear how the countries would be able to help with the areas that have been called “safe zones” inside of Syria, as they are under the control of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Refugees have reportedly fled out of fear of both ISIS fighters and Syrian army members.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been openly vocal in their criticism of Assad and his allies, while Egypt has maintained a line of communication with the Syrian government.

 

 

Lebanon, on the other hand, is sharply divided over whether or not to communicate with the Syrian government to coordinate the return of refugees.

To manage this, an international humanitarian source suggested outside countries mediate.

“You have so many influential countries [involved in] Syria now, so perhaps Russia,” the source said, could intervene between Lebanon and Syria to discuss allowing refugees back into certain areas deemed safe. “With 6 million internally displaced, I’m not sure that Assad wants more [refugees outside Syria] back,” the source said.

Some Lebanese sides have suggested that since there are diplomatic ties between Beirut and Damascus, there should be coordination between the two countries over refugees’ return. Others reject any communication with the Assad regime and advocate for a tripartite line with UNHCR in the middle.

Meanwhile, the U.N. and some Western states have stated that returns should not be undertaken in the absence of a political solution to the conflict.

As a result of the failure by the Lebanese government to draft a unified and comprehensive policy for dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis’ impact in the country, tensions are increasing between organizations working with the displaced, both international and local.

UNHCR and the Lebanese Foreign Ministry have been at odds in recent weeks, with the ministry lashing out at the aid body for “scaring” refugees from returning to Syria.

Separately, General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim said that international aid to Lebanon “was and continues to be minor” relative to the social and economic burden placed on the country by the roughly 1 million Syrian refugees in the country. In an interview published Wednesday in General Security’s monthly magazine, Ibrahim suggested that aid is needed for refugees who have returned to Syria and “not just conferences to support the refugee crisis.”

Ibrahim defended the return of some 500 Syrians who left Lebanon’s Shebaa to Syria’s Beit Jin on April 18, describing it as completely “voluntary and safe.”

He suggested that a general amnesty allowing all refugees back to Syria could be a solution, “but coordination between the Lebanese and Syrian governments, with the participation of the international community, is the best solution.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, Aoun also noted that Lebanon was keen on maintaining the best relations with Arab countries, saying, “Lebanon cannot be [used as] an arena for interference into the concerns of any Arab country.”

 

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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