BEIRUT — Caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said Thursday at a Syria aid-pledging conference in Brussels that Lebanon needs foreign aid so the country does "not turn into a massive refugee camp in the Mediterranean.”
"Lebanon is facing political and economic issues that are enlarged by the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon despite the donor countries’ support to Lebanon," Bou Habib added.
“Lebanon needs tangible support to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis so that Lebanon does not become a massive refugee camp in the Mediterranean,” Bou Habib said at the conference.
According to estimates by the Lebanese authorities, more than 2 million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, while the UN has registered 830,000 Syrian refugees with the organization.
While some people in Lebanon complain that Syrian refugees pose a threat amid the country's economic crisis, others warn that returning to Syria remains dangerous for many refugees amid continued fighting, state torture and forced disappearances.
“The Lebanese have displayed remarkable generosity by hosting Syrians but the long-term implication of their presence in Lebanon has affected the social fabric and economic stability and the situation has gone on for too long making it hard to ignore,” Bou Habib added on Thursday in Brussels.
“There are invisible costs incurred by Lebanon due to their presence. Our economy is already burdened by diverting resources to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” he said.
'International community’s support inadequate'
“The international community’s support is inadequate and we call for greater support from donor countries, the international community, and the European Union,” Bou Habib said.
In April, ministers called on Lebanese security forces to prevent irregular land border crossings into Lebanon, adding that “refugee status” will be revoked for those Syrians leaving Lebanese territory.
The ministers also tasked the Interior Ministry and Social Affairs Ministry with registering the births of Syrians in Lebanon in coordination with UNHCR. The Labor Ministry was tasked with "tightening labor control within the permitted sectors" for Syrians in Lebanon. Syrians are legally only allowed to work in agriculture and several other labor-intensive fields in Lebanon.
Caretaker Justice Minister Henri Khoury was asked to negotiate the “immediate” deportation of Syrian detainees.
'UNHCR to provide Lebanon with official data'
Dozens of displaced Syrian nationals have been deported since the start of April amid aggressive policing of the refugee community in Lebanon, security officials and a humanitarian source told AFP in April.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar, who is also in Brussels, tweeted Wednesday that “the Europeans cling to their position, which consists of rejecting the return of these displaced persons [Syrians] to their country for the sole purpose of obtaining funding for help during this conference.”
Hajjar has repeatedly called for the deportation of Syrian refugees and called the UN’s aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon “a crime against Lebanon.” Hajjar also tweeted that “the return of displaced Syrians to their country is the only real solution and the only acceptable one.”
On Tuesday, caretaker Information Minister Ziad Makari said after a cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail that a Lebanese delegation would soon travel to Syria to discuss refugees, though no precise date had been set for the visit. He also noted that the UNHCR had agreed to provide its data on Syrian refugees to the Lebanese authorities, after previously refusing.
In May, the Arab League agreed to readmit Syria into the organization, which raised questions about the future relations between the country and its neighbor, Lebanon.
Despite the brutal repression of pro-democracy protesters and later war crimes against civilians throughout the war, Lebanon did not follow the lead of most Arab states in severing diplomatic ties with Bashar al-Assad’s regime.