Shafaq News / In collaboration with several countries in the region, including Iraq, Beirut has embarked on a quest to repatriate more than one million Syrian refugees residing on Lebanese soil.
In light of one of the worst living crises afflicting Lebanon, the Lebanese government is following the suburb-suburb plan to repatriate 15,000 refugees every month, highlighting the legality of their residences and employment on Syrian territory.
"I urge all nations to work with Lebanon and assist Syrian refugees in returning to their country. Otherwise, Lebanon will take an unfavorable stance from western nations and work to remove Syrians from Lebanon through legal means, firmly enforcing Lebanese laws," stated PM Najib Mikati.
International agencies estimate the number of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon at around one million. However, local estimates put it closer to 1.5 million, i.e., more than a third of the country's population. The Syrian refugees refuse to return to their country for several reasons, including the fact that they receive international and financial aid while living in Lebanon.
For months, Beirut has been demanding international and humanitarian organizations to provide aid to Syrians inside Syrian territory to persuade them to return.
Lebanese officials say that Lebanon no longer has the luxury of time to host hundreds of thousands of refugees on its territory, as a result of its inability to provide basic services to its citizens, such as electricity, food, fuel, and medical care at a time when the value of the Lebanese pound has collapsed and large social and population segments have fallen into poverty.
The Syrian state has regained control of more than three-quarters of its territory from armed and terrorist militias. At the same time, Idlib remains under the grip of terrorist factions and is subject to a Russian-Turkish-sponsored ceasefire.
Some areas in northern Syria are under the control of Turkish-backed factions, while others are controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.). in addition, a force of hundreds of U.S. soldiers is deployed in eastern Syria, while most of the country's state-controlled territory is remarkably stable.
"Eleven years after the start of the Syrian crisis, Lebanon can no longer bear this burden, especially under the current circumstances," Mikati said.
Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said recently that the Lebanese state was "committed to the principle of non-forced repatriation of refugees, but the situation is no longer sustainable, and the state can no longer afford to maintain security where they live and in refugee camps."
Last Tuesday, Mikati chaired a meeting of the cabinet committee tasked with discussing the issue of Syrian refugees, including the ministers of defense, interior, social affairs, and labor, where Hajjar said, "We discussed several proposals and agreed on practical steps that we will announce later."
The U.N. has provided only about nine billion dollars since 2015 to assist Lebanon in housing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Lebanese officials, however, stated that hosting refugees has cost Lebanon much more in services, medicine, electricity, education, waste, and jobs, not to mention the demographic influence on a nation that is going through serious sectarian tensions.
Prior to the meeting of the ministerial committee, Lebanon brought up the refugees' file at a consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers, held in Beirut before the upcoming Arab summit in Algeria, in November, where Lebanese President Michel Aoun stated that Lebanon "can no longer afford the large number of refugees and refugees on its soil, and the position of the international community does not uphold quick solutions."
Confirming that Lebanon is moving forward, Minister of Displaced Issam Charafeddine said after meeting with the Lebanese President that there was a plan to repatriate 15,000 refugees per month in cooperation with several countries, including Iraq.
Charafeddine stated that the Syrian authorities were "reaching out to cooperate in this matter" and were in contact with them, adding that it was completely unacceptable that refugees from Syria would not return home once the war was over.
He added that a meeting was held with international parties represented by the Commissioner for Refugees, and there was an agreement regarding the Syrian state's request for forming a joint committee between Syria, Lebanon, and UNHCR.
The Lebanese minister pointed out that Lebanon put forward the idea of "the refugees to receive aid in Syria, but unfortunately, this did not resonate. However, we had another idea based on the fact that as long as the return will be phased per month according to the program prepared by the ministry in cooperation with the Committee for the Return of refugees and the Ministry of Social Affairs; we asked UNHCR to suspend the aid of the 15,000 refugees who must return because receiving it in Lebanon is an incentive for them to stay."
Additionally, he discussed interactions with Turkey through its ambassador in Beirut, "He was very understanding and cooperative. We agreed to keep the humanitarian aspect of this issue in mind and to keep the political aspect out of it. Our strategy for dealing with the issue is based on a gradual return. The Turkish side also has the idea of setting up a safe zone where the refugees could be sent back, but this is a political matter that has nothing to do with us."
"It was agreed to form a quartet of the Turkish state, which hosts 3.7 million refugees people, Lebanon, which hosts 1.5 million refugees people, Iraq, hosting 170,000 refugees, and Jordan, 670,000 refugees, to make a unified demand with the U.N. agencies to facilitate the return of refugees," Charafeddine said.
When asked what would happen if some of the refugees refused to return, the Lebanese minister said, "The war in Syria is over, and the country is safe. It is totally unacceptable that the refugees would not return," adding, "those opposed to the Syrian regime should pledge to the Syrian state not to engage in any negative action in Syrian territory. Otherwise, the UNHCR is responsible for deporting them to another country."
In response to the question of whether there is a deadline for the return of refugees, he said, "Realistically, the Syrian state is repatriating the refugees in groups, one village at a time, according to statistics compiled by the Lebanese Interior Ministry. Deportation should be carried out in light of this so the refugees can return to residences with access to roads, schools, hospitals, infrastructure, and sanitation. Therefore, it is impossible to return 1.5 million refugees simultaneously. However, they will return at a rate of 15,000 refugees per month, which is excellent."
Interior Minister Bassam al-Mawlawi has been tasked with submitting a law to parliament stipulating that any Syrian refugee must have a work permit and residence card.