BEIRUT — Lebanon's Caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib warned Wednesday night of "very serious repercussions" if the Syrian refugee crisis is not addressed and appealed to the international community to help Syria recover from its current economic crisis, the state-run National News Agency reported on Thursday.
Bou Habib made his statement during the 160th session of the Arab League Council of Foreign Ministers, which was held in Egypt.
Bou Habib, who returned to Beirut on Wednesday night, said during the session that "the numbers of Syrian refugees in Lebanon have increased lately, putting additional pressure on the economic and social conditions as well as the already limited resources."
According to official estimates, Lebanon is host to 2 million Syrian refugees, of whom some 830,000 are registered refugees with the UN.
Of late, the authorities have warned of an uptick in the number of Syrian arrivals through illegal crossing points along Lebanon's border with Syria; meanwhile, the Lebanese Army is publishing regular reports of intercepting would-be illegal migrants near the border and turning them around.
According to the latest such report, published on Thursday morning, the army said it had prevented the entry of around 1,200 Syrian migrants.
'Helping Syria is an urgent matter'
Bou Habib added that "these refugees are leaving Syria for economic and financial reasons due to the deterioration of the economic crisis in Syria … everyone should know that helping Syria overcome its political and economic crisis is an urgent matter, especially for neighboring countries, as the repercussions that may result from the deterioration of the refugee issue may be much more dangerous than some imagine."
Syria is in a deep economic crisis that saw its currency plunge to a record 15,500 Syrian pounds to the US dollar last month in a rapidly accelerating freefall. The Syrian national currency traded at 47 pounds to the dollar at the start of the conflict 12 years ago.
The Lebanese cabinet meeting's agenda on Thursday included a discussion on the illegal entry of Syrians to Lebanon, but this item was postponed until a meeting next week, the date of which has yet to be set.
Caretaker Information Minister Ziad Makary announced at the end of a cabinet meeting that next week's meeting on the topic will take place in the presence of representatives from the various security institutions.
From Cairo, Bou Habib also reiterated the call of the Lebanese authorities to "facilitate and accelerate the return of displaced Syrians and refugees to their country, towns and villages" and to stop "politicizing this issue."