Lebanese government and UN clash over Syrian refugees

'UNHCR delays repatriation. Refugees 'the reason for crisis'

30 November, 12:39

    BEIRUT - The day after the visit to Beirut of Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs, Hector Hajjar, accused the UN agency of delaying the "voluntary" repatriation of over one million Syrian nationals, who fled their country due to the war and have been in Lebanon for years now. Hajjar added that they are the reason for Lebanon's economic meltdown.

    The Beirut media gave ample space to Hajjar's declarations, which were released at the same time of Grandi's visit to Beirut. "The High Commissioner does not have the means to help all refugees but it does not encourage them to go back (to Syria) which places us before a political question", stated Hajjar as reported in the media.

    In the Lebanese capital, Grandi met with Hajjar, as well as with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdallah Bou Habib and other high level officers responsible for the Lebanese security services who are in charge of following up on the issue of repatriation of Syrian refugees.

    In October, at the same time with the end of President Michel Aoun's mandate, Lebanese authorities conducted the repatriation of a couple of hundred Syrian nationals. This took place after, last spring, the governments of Beirut and Damascus had reached an ambitious agreement for the repatriation of over 15,000 people.

    According to the UNHCR, there are 825,000 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon. According to Lebanese authorities instead, Syrian refugees are around 2 million.

    Syrian refugees are considered by those who govern and by a great majority of Lebanese public opinion as one of the main causes of the country's socioeconomic crisis. Lebanon had been dealing with an unprecedented financial default since 2019.

    Lebanon never signed the Geneva Convention on the rights of refugees and does not recognize Syrian nationals as refugees but rather as "temporary guests".

    The UN, the European Union and various international and Lebanese humanitarian organizations criticize the repatriation plans of Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Syria because, they state, these do not guarantee the safety and well-being of the people once they return to Syria and there is not certainty that their repatriation is actually "voluntary" and in-keeping with individual dignity.

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