BEIRUT — "Relevant authorities" from Lebanon's Foreign Ministry will follow up on plans to repatriate Syrian refugees, the ministry said Sunday, after news circulated in local media that caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib decided to withdraw from leading a committee on repatriation due to extensive upcoming travel.
“Some falsely analyzed this decision by linking it to recent foreign developments and decisions related to this file,” the Foreign Ministry statement explained, referring to a 16-point resolution passed by the European Parliament on Wednesday.
The EU resolution, which focused on Lebanon, addressed various issues, including the political deadline and the 2020 Beirut port blast. Article 13, which refers to the presence of Syrian refugees in the country, has triggered controversy.
Several Lebanese politicians criticized Article 13, which they believe encourages Syrian refugees to remain in Lebanon.
While the text does not explicitly call for Syrian refugees to remain in Lebanon, it states that "the conditions required for a voluntary and dignified return of refugees are not present."
This reflects the position the international community and rights groups have taken over the years, as many returnees still face mandatory military conscription, homelessness, detainment and forced disappearance upon reentering Syria.
The EU text also calls on Lebanon "to refrain from expelling, imposing discriminatory measures and inciting hatred against Syrian refugees."
“The role of the Minister of Foreign Affairs with regard to the displaced Syrians in Lebanon is to communicate and carry out diplomatic and political contacts with our Arab brothers, especially the Syrians, and other friendly countries, which he is doing now and in the future, in coordination with the [caretaker] Prime Minister, and he will follow up on them constantly," the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
"As for the technical issues, the designated authority will follow up on them with the designated ministers and agencies."
The statement noted that Bou Habib’s agenda in the coming few months would involve extensive foreign travel, including meetings in Amman and New York.
Responses to EU resolution
The European Parliament resolution stirred harsh criticism from politicians in Lebanon who hope to repatriate Syrian refugees.
On Wednesday, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar, a firm supporter of the repatriation of Syrian refugees, criticized in a tweet "the European Parliament's overwhelming vote for a resolution that supports keeping Syrian refugees in Lebanon." According to Hajjar, this resolution "is not surprising."
Caretaker Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine announced on Al-Jadeed TV on Thursday that he called for an emergency cabinet meeting "to respond to this arbitrary decision" of the European Parliament.
"They are behaving as if Lebanon were a European colony, which we totally reject," Charafeddine said. He added that Syria's government also "agrees" with Lebanon's desire to repatriate refugees.
The Kataeb party also strongly condemned Article 13, which they said "failed to put in place the necessary roadmap for [Syrians'] return to their country, which is essential for Lebanon's stability."
The Lebanese Forces (LF) echoed this sentiment, stating in a press release that "Article 13 of the resolution, which refers to Syrian refugees, is contrary to what the Lebanese want and what we have asked our European friends and partners to do, concerning the return of refugees and the need to support them once they have returned to their country."
The LF also called for the transfer of refugees to other countries "in Europe or in the Arab world."
Fady Alameh, a member of the Amal Movement and head of Parliament's Foreign Affairs committee, said he was "surprised" by the content of the European resolution.
"The Lebanese and Syrian governments, as well as the Arab League, should have been contacted in order to reach a solution to this issue through the safe and voluntary return of displaced persons," Alameh said in a statement, adding that he rejected "any xenophobic discourse."