Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Saturday called on the European Union and the United Nations to withdraw a joint statement made after the recent Brussels conference on the Syrian refugee crisis, despite clarifications made by both bodies after earlier criticism.
In a letter addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Bassil said the joint statement was “opposed to Lebanon’s general policy concerning displaced Syrians,” and he called for “the removal of this statement,” and to “work together to rework a common vision to resolve the crisis of displaced Syrians.”
Bassil reiterated a position previously stated by President Michel Aoun – that “Lebanon adheres to the political solution in Syria, but refuses to link the return of refugees to this solution - which could take time - or [returns] being linked to the reconstruction process.”
The original joint EU-U.N. statement, published on April 25, “stressed the need to ensure that any evacuation of civilians must be safe, informed, temporary, voluntary in nature and a solution of last resort including the destination of their choice, the right to return and the choice to stay, as per IHL [international humanitarian law].”
Lebanon’s United Nations Resident Coordinator Office and European Union Delegation Friday addressed criticism from Lebanese officials, saying in a joint statement there has been no change in their position over Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
The statement had led President Michel Aoun to say Thursday that the bodies were endangering Lebanon and infringing on its sovereignty, due to what he saw as allusions to the permanent settlement of Syrian refugees.
The U.N. and EU said Friday that the paragraph in question “relates to the situation of populations affected by the conflict within Syria. It does not pertain to Lebanon and does not relate to refugees,” and that “they view the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon as temporary.”
This week’s run-in between Lebanese officials and the U.N. is the second in as many weeks.
Last Friday, the Foreign Ministry demanded UNHCR refrain from issuing further statements on refugee returns just days after 500 refugees living in the southern Shebaa area returned to Beit Jin in Syria, south of Damascus.
The U.N. refugee agency was accused of scaremongering by the ministry in a statement following the departure, in which it said that the situation in Syria was not conducive to large-scale returns.
Bassil mentioned this incident again in his Saturday letter, billing the UNHCR’s statement “intimidation” of Syrian refugees regarding their return to Syria.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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