BEIRUT — On Wednesday, Lebanon's caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdallah Bou Habib, called on the European Union to enter into discussions with Lebanon on the return of Syrian refugees. This follows a European Parliament resolution passed last week on Lebanon that mentioned the presence of Syrian refugees in the country. The resolution has since caused controversy in Lebanon.
The text does not explicitly call for Syrian refugees to remain in Lebanon, but considers that "the conditions required for a voluntary and dignified return of refugees are not present." This position aligns with what the international community has been saying for years but goes against the views of many Lebanese officials who call for their repatriation. The text also calls on Lebanon "in the event of action on migration, to refrain from expulsions, from imposing discriminatory measures and from inciting hatred against Syrian refugees."
The Lebanese government estimates that the country currently hosts around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, 815,000 of whom are registered with UNHCR.
In a letter sent on Wednesday to the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, Bou Habib stressed "the need to launch a constructive and comprehensive dialogue between Lebanon and the EU on all issues, including that of displaced Syrians, which is beginning to threaten not only Lebanon's social structure, stability, and economy but also its very existence."
"Lebanon is ready to engage in discussions with the EU to put in place a plan for a safe and dignified return," stressed Bou Habib. "[There is a] need to launch a constructive and comprehensive dialogue between Lebanon and the EU on all issues, including that of displaced Syrians, which is beginning to threaten not only Lebanon's social structure, stability, and economy but also its very existence," Bou Habib continued.
He encouraged "the creation of an EU administrative advisory committee to study the urgent needs of the Lebanese public sector and establish a Lebanese-European dialogue in all fields."
"It is important for the international community to address the causes of the displacement of Syrians, as mentioned in the European Parliament's decision, and to speed up the provision of basic infrastructure and social services in Syria to facilitate the return of displaced persons," He added.
Since being passed by the European Parliament, the resolution in question has been criticized by the majority of Lebanese politicians, who believe that the text encourages Syrian refugees to remain in Lebanon. Last week, two French parliamentarians even engaged in a video battle over the resolution, one of them going so far as to denounce a "betrayal" of the Lebanese with the vote on the text.
Last weekend, Bou Habib announced that he would no longer chair the ministerial committee responsible for conducting talks with the Syrian government on the Syrian refugee issue.