Lebanon's caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi claimed on Wednesday that 30 percent of crimes perpetrated in Lebanon are committed by Syrian nationals. His remarks came at a press conference held after a meeting in Beirut between the minister and municipality heads and district governors. The involvement of Syrian nationals in criminal activity is a major topic of public debate in Lebanon, where a large proportion of the political class is calling for Syrian migrants to be repatriated to their homeland.
"Syrians commit over 30 percent of crimes in Lebanon. This calls for solidarity to protect our country, its image and its identity," Mawlawi told the conference, before going on to slam the Syrian presence in Lebanon more generally. "We will not accept this random presence …. We are asking municipalities to submit a report every 15 days concerning their actions on the Syrian presence," he said.
The minister added that any governor who "gives falsified or false authorizations [to Syrians] will be judged," hammering home the point that Lebanon and its population "can no longer bear the massive presence" of Syrian migrants.
Mawlawi also appeared to call for the rejection of aid that benefits Syrians in Lebanon, saying, "We will not accept any aid that contributes to the illegal presence of Syrians" and calling on the Lebanese "not to be lured by the money" to be made from people smuggling at the borders.
"We want a repatriation plan, with a time-bound framework," the minister emphasized.
Answering a question about attempts at irregular migration by sea, Mawlawi replied: "The subject of the sea is not mine. It's not for me to decide."
In a speech on Monday evening, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah suggested allowing Syrian migrants to leave Lebanon by sea, a proposal supported by caretaker Minister for Displaced Persons Issam Charafeddine.
When asked about Mawlawi's claim about the percentage of crimes perpetrated by Syrians, Ramzi Kaiss, a Human Rights Watch researcher, told L'Orient Today, "We do have reason to be skeptical of this statistic because of a myriad of crimes committed in Lebanon for which perpetrators are not held to account — either as a result of the authorities’ unwillingness or inability to properly investigate such crimes or because of the repeated political interference to prevent justice from taking its course."
"This applies to many cases, but most prominently includes the Beirut blast, politically motivated killings, financial crimes, corruption, fraud and attacks against protesters, journalists, and activists," Kaiss added.
The ISF was not immediately available to provide L'Orient Today with figures about the type of crimes that were referenced in Mawlawi's press conference.
Lebanon says it hosts more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. Approximately 800,000 are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), given that the Lebanese government asked UNHCR to stop registering them in 2015. Rabih Haber, CEO of Statistics Lebanon, asserts that the total number of Syrians registered in Lebanon is 2,048,713, without distinction between those working legally, those registered as refugees or those in an illegal situation.