|Date: Sep 4, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Over 1,000 Syrians set to return home|
|Timour Azhari| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: More than 1,000 Syrian refugees who registered with Hezbollah are set to return to Syria in the first joint initiative by Hezbollah, the Syrian government and General Security, a Hezbollah official said Monday. Former Hezbollah MP Nawar Saheli, who oversees refugee registration centers set up by the party, told The Daily Star that all of those returning had been vetted by the Syrian government and that nothing was barring their entry.
Saheli presented General Security head Abbas Ibrahim Monday with a list of the names of the refugees. The former MP said that he did not know when the return was scheduled for, and that it would be managed by General Security, which has previously organized several refugee returns. A General Security source was unable to give The Daily Star specific information on when the refugees who registered with Hezbollah would begin returning.
Saheli said that those set to return would be the first of several groups comprising thousands of refugees who would return after having registered with Hezbollah. He said that “less than 1 percent” of those who had applied to return had been rejected by the Syrian authorities, adding that the rejection was only temporary, until the files could be resolved.
Just fewer than 1 million refugees are registered in Lebanon with the UNHCR, though officials estimate the number of refugees in the country is roughly 1.5 million.
The manner in which the Syrian refugee crisis should be dealt with has become a hot-button political issue in Lebanon in recent months, as political parties are divided as to whether direct talks should be held with the Syrian government.
In the absence of a uniform decision, several parties, including Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, formed committees to work to facilitate returns themselves.
Saheli said the returns were happening entirely without the participation of the UNHCR, which in Lebanon has been sidelined following criticism and punitive measures by caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. He has accused the organization of discouraging the refugees’ return, against Lebanese state policy. The UNHCR has maintained that the conditions in Syria do not allow for it to sponsor large-scale returns, but that it would work to facilitate returns if they were voluntary.
The UNHCR said it had no immediate comment on the return of refugees who registered with Hezbollah.
But in the absence of such oversight, who will guarantee that those returning to their country – many for the first time since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war more than seven years ago – will not face persecution? “Once the Syrian government has approved [their entry], they will not have any issues,” Saheli said.
Meanwhile, in a statement released Monday, General Security announced that hundreds of refugees would return Tuesday from areas across Lebanon through the Masnaa and Abboudieh border crossings. Saheli said Tuesday’s return was not one Hezbollah had participated in organizing.
The refugees are set to depart from the Bekaa, Shebaa, Nabatieh, Tripoli and Mount Lebanon, beginning at 6 a.m., the agency said.