SUN 20 - 1 - 2019
Jun 6, 2018
The Daily Star
Lebanon presses UNHCR on refugee return strategy
Joseph Haboush| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanon Tuesday gave the UNHCR a fortnight to respond to a request to develop a strategy to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees to safe zones in their homeland. The Foreign Ministry’s political affairs director, Ghady al-Khoury, met with the body’s Lebanon representative to voice Lebanon’s reservations over the UNHCR policy on the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, a statement from the ministry said.
“The UNHCR is not talking about the right of return or resettlement [outside Lebanon] and we are under the impression that [they consider] integration the only remaining option for [refugees], which is a no-go for Lebanon,” said a source who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
According to the source, Mireille Girard, the UNHCR representative, understood Lebanon’s position, but maintained the body has its own set of criteria for the return of refugees to war-torn countries.
A UNHCR source told The Daily Star the body “is in regular discussions with the Government of Lebanon on its role and activities with regard to the protection of refugees ... solutions include resettlement from Lebanon to third countries, and repatriation in line with international standards.”
The Foreign Ministry’s statement said Girard noted the UNHCR’s role is limited to humanitarian assistance only. However, the source told The Daily Star that return is imminent.
“We can’t wait, and the luxury of waiting is over. ... Seventy percent of Syria doesn’t have problems.”
If the UNHCR does not give Lebanon a clear answer within the requested period, the source said the relationship between Beirut and the international body will experience “negative repercussions.”
“The return of refugees has started and [the UNHCR] must deal with it,” the source added, citing the “dignified and aware manner” by which 500 Syrian refugees living in Lebanon’s southern Shebaa area returned to Syria’s Beit Jin in April.
Soon after the meeting, in a statement addressed to Girard, the Foreign Ministry demanded UNHCR refrain from issuing further statements on refugee returns. Days after 500 more refugees returned to Syria from Lebanon, the Foreign Ministry accused the agency of scaremongering with its statement on the return, in which the UNHCR said the situation in Syria was not conducive to large-scale return.
The source also said they did not want to attack the UNHCR’s policy on return, which the source acknowledged was to ultimately return refugees to their homeland. “But we informed [the UNHCR] of Lebanon’s policy and our economic situation. The country can no longer endure [the burden].”
Earlier Tuesday caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil called for the adoption of a national strategy for the return of refugees to Syria, regardless of the international community’s stance on the matter.
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