BEIRUT — Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil on Thursday evening accused caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati of "submission to foreign powers against Lebanon's interests" in hosting Syrian refugees.
“Lebanon is the first in the world in terms of the intensity of displacement, and in terms of emigration, and this is a situation that a country with its society and resources ... cannot bear,” Bassil said in a speech at a conference hosting local leaders in the Jbeil area, according to a statement published in the state-run National News Agency.
"The displacement crisis is existential, and its effects are social, economic and demographic," Bassil added.
"The displaced Syrian is a victim and the Lebanese host is a victim, and therefore we will not abandon two peoples, but the crisis initially requires treatment from us, and it is a mistake to expect solutions from abroad only," Bassil said. "During President Aoun's mandate, 450,000 displaced Syrians returned to Syria, but no one talks about the issue, and no report has been issued about a name or an [harmful] incident that they were exposed to there [after their return to Syria].”
In a report published in May 2023, Amnesty International reported on "horrific violations committed by Syrian military and security forces against Syrian returnees, including children, such as unlawful or arbitrary detention and torture and other ill-treatment, rape and sexual violence, and enforced disappearance."
Bassil continued: “It is true that 450,000 have returned, but it is unfortunate that the number of Syrians has increased in Lebanon due to births, and when I warned about this matter, and about the issue of the obligation to register them so that unregistered children do not turn into unregistered persons upon family reunification, some newspapers described me in 2011 as the worst.”
Last week caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said 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.”
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.
Caretaker Information Minister Ziad Makari had said, earlier in June, 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 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.