BEIRUT — At the launch of an appeal Monday — set to coincide with World Refugee Day — for $3.2 billion in additional international funding to address the impacts of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon, Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said he plans to launch a plan for return of the refugees in the coming days, while Prime Minister Najib Mikati threatened to step up deportations if the international community does not assist in returning the refugees.
Here’s what we know:
• Hajjar spoke during the launch of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan for 2022-23, which was also attended by Mikati and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon Najat Rochdi. Some $9 billion in international assistance has been provided to Lebanon since 2015 under previous iterations of the plan.
• The social affairs minister said that Lebanon is committed to the principle of non-refoulement — an international principle that holds refugees should not be forcibly returned to a country where they will face persecution, but added, “The situation is no longer bearable, and the Lebanese state is no longer able to bear the burdens of this crisis. For many years, the Lebanese state has incurred multi-dimensional losses, not to mention the security chaos and the burden of controlling the borders to combat illegal immigration.”
• He added, “I will not go into more details, because we are about to launch an initiative in this regard. We have consulted with the delegations that visited us during the past weeks regarding its main points and we will announce more details in the coming days.”
• A spokesperson for the Social Affairs Ministry confirmed that the plan Hajjar mentioned was related to the return of refugees, but declined to give more details.
• At the same conference, Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on the international community to “cooperate with Lebanon to return the displaced Syrians to their country.” He added, “Otherwise, Lebanon will have a situation that is not desirable for Western countries, which is to work to get the Syrians out of Lebanon by legal means, through the firm application of Lebanese laws.”
• There are currently some 839,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon. While officials often cite an estimate of 1.5 million total, the actual number present in the country is unknown, because the Lebanese government requested UNHCR to stop registering new refugee arrivals as of 2015. The number of registered refugees, however, has steadily decreased since 2015, when it reached nearly 1.2 million, as many have since left Lebanon.
• While Lebanese officials frequently call for the return of the refugees to Syria, previous attempts to organize a large-scale return have largely fallen flat, although some refugees continue to return on their own. To date, UNHCR has recorded 69,420 refugees who have voluntarily returned to Syria from Lebanon since 2016.
• Meanwhile, the Lebanese government has forcibly deported a number of refugees. The Access Center for Human Rights, an NGO based between Lebanon and France and focused on the conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, recorded 59 cases of “arbitrary deportation” in 2021.
This post has been updated to add quotes from Prime Minister Najib Mikati.