BEIRUT: Pro-Syria Druze MP Talal Arslan Tuesday implicitly accused rival Lebanese politicians of obstructing Syrian refugee returns, during a televised news conference.
The Lebanese Democratic Party leader said that Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib, whom he is closely affiliated with, has been working his hardest to solve the refugee crisis, but said the “problem is not in Syria – it is in Lebanon.”
Arslan argued that Syria has welcomed refugees wishing to return and expressed its readiness to help Lebanon facilitate the process “without conditions.”
Lebanese political parties remain at odds when it comes to talks with Damascus. President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah and their allies have called for direct talks with Syria to resolve the refugee crisis. However, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces advocate finding a political solution to the conflict before any direct talks can be held.
In February, Lebanese NGO SAWA for Development and Aid said that some refugees who had made the journey back to Syria had returned to Lebanon after encountering unexpected dangers and obstacles back home. Their report came only a few months after former Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merehbi claimed that some refugees had even been killed upon their return.
Syria has denied these accusations. Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon denied earlier this year that Syria was too dangerous for refugees to return to.
Aoun has said on multiple occasions that Lebanon had not received any information of returning refugees being harmed.
Lebanon hosts about 1 million refugees registered with the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, but the government puts the total number of refugees at more than 1.5 million.
Arslan also touched on remarks Aoun made a day ago, when the president told a working group tasked by the U.S. Congress to study the situation in Syria that the U.N. must offer the refugees help inside Syria, not outside it.
“If the international community were honest about how it deals with solutions to the refugee crisis, then it would [call on] the United Nations to support the Syrian refugees in their home [and] on their land,” Arslan said.
The U.N. has put forward a Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan for 2018-19, which is twofold. It calls for $3.2 billion to provide support and protection to more than 13 million people inside Syria. However, it also calls for $4.4 billion to support some 5 million refugees in neighboring countries and approximately 4 million people in the communities hosting the displaced.