BEIRUT — Caretaker Minister for Displaced Persons Issam Charafeddine on Tuesday voiced his support for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's suggestion that Syrian refugees be permitted to leave Lebanon by sea.
Hundreds of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, as well as Lebanese nationals, regularly attempt to leave Lebanon illegally by dangerous sea routes. Hundreds have died during such attempts.
"The sea is ahead of you and Syria is behind you," said Charafedine, who is affiliated with former MP Talal Erslan, Hezbollah's ally, to L'Orient Today.
"I agree with Nasrallah's statements regarding [Syrian] refugees. We should open the sea for migration to Europe by ships and there should be a resolution to the file of Syrian refugees from its core."
Charefeddine also said that the US sanctions on Syria through the Caesar Act should be abolished.
"What is needed is a strategy or a general plan to resolve the problem," said the minister.
Enacted in 2020, the Caesar Act is an American law that sanctions any individual, company, or institution engaged in trade with the Assad regime in Damascus, or contributing to the country's reconstruction.
'Pressure' against Europe
Charafeddine also echoed Nasrallah in his call to search for "the smuggling mafias," in reference to the networks the smuggling networks that illegally transport people from Syria to Lebanon.
"Why are you preventing refugees from going to Europe? Them going to Europe can act as a pressure against the European Union so that it comes back to the Grand Serail with proposed solutions," said Charafeddine.
Contacted by L'Orient Today, Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar, the UNHCR, and a senior Lebanese Army source all declined to comment on the matter. A General Security source was not immediately available for comment.
President of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights Wadih al-Asmar told L'Orient Today that the main obstacle to any solution for the Syrian refugee crisis is the Syrian regime.
"Hassan Nasrallah, who is a main ally of the Syrian regime, instead of lecturing the Lebanese and the Syrian refugees, should pressure the Syrian regime to give guarantees needed so that the refugees would feel comfortable to go back to Syria without experiencing torture, detainment, and killing," said Asmar.
"There is a direct campaign from the Syrian regime to use the refugee issue, which is a hot topic in Lebanon," as a negotiation tool with European countries and the international community, he continued.
"Would [Nasrallah's] conscience be able to bear the number of people who would be lost at sea?" Asmar asked.
To him, Nasrallah's speech "reveals the level of embarrassment from Hezbollah, the ally of the Syrian regime, because the latter refuses to find a solution to the refugee crisis in Lebanon."
Most political parties in Lebanon agree on the necessity of repatriating Syrian refugees. However, human rights organizations and the UN warn of security risks in case of return.
Lebanon is estimated to host more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees who fled since 2011, making it the country with the highest population of refugees per capita in the world.