Lebanon finalizes new refugee policy

Published June 2nd, 2014 - 04:00 GMT
Lebanon now hosts over 1 million refugees. (AFP/File)
Lebanon now hosts over 1 million refugees. (AFP/File)

Lebanon Monday formalized its policy to govern the overwhelming presence of Syrian refugees, saying the country would work with the international community to build camps in Syria or in no man’s land along the border.

Speaking after the end of the ministerial committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said the committee agreed unanimously on three primary decisions that outline the country’s policy.

“The committee agreed to drop the link between the Syrian refugee case with the ongoing battles in areas close to the Lebanese border,” Derbas told reporters at the Grand Serail.

“Second, the committee agreed to drop the refugee status from those who leave Lebanon for Syria,” he added, noting that some of these decisions had already gone into effect.

He also said that his ministry was tasked with following up on Syrian residents in Lebanon carrying identification documents as refugees, “which is against international law.”

Derbas also said that the Cabinet decided to launch contacts “aimed at creating the appropriate circumstances to build Syrian refugee camps in Syria or in no man’s land.”

Lebanon is estimated to be home to more than 1.5 million refugees, nearly a third of the country’s population. The government has repeatedly asked the international community, particularly Arab countries, to share the refugee burden but the aid has not been sufficient.

During the brief news conference, Derbas described the presence of refugees as “the most dangerous crisis in Lebanon’s history,” saying all political parties had come to realize that the crisis was a “Lebanese affairs rather than sectarian or partisan” issue.

Our budget, political differences over the crisis in Syria and the size of Lebanon does not qualify us to house more than what we already have,” he said.

The minister said Lebanon used to have “no stance with regards to the Syrian crisis but now we have an opinion and a policy.”

Derbas was referring to the policy of disassociation from the crisis in Syria that was adopted by former Prime Minister Najib Mikati and backed by the international community.

Meanwhile, MP Walid Jumblatt praised the Interior Ministry's recent decision to ban refugees from returning to Syria or else they would risk losing their refugee status, saying such a move was "logical and objective."

"I praise that decision ... particularly after the provocative scene that upset Lebanese citizens on the day of the so-called Syrian presidential election, which was not more than a drama that would only renew Syrian people's suffering for years to come,” Jumblatt said in his weekly statement.

"The decision is appropriate for this period of time,” he added.

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