BEIRUT: The Change and Reform bloc headed by MP Michel Aoun proposed Tuesday a series of measures to “curb the strain” caused by the growing Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, including ending its open door policy. Caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil read the draft law prepared by the bloc after its weekly meeting, saying the proposal aimed at “curbing the strain” on the government and host community resources caused by the increasing number of refugees.
“There is a need take reasonable measures which reflect Lebanese interests, the humanitarian status of Syrian refugees and the foreign conspiracies [being sowed against Lebanon],” Bassil told reporters at Aoun’s Rabieh residence. “The proposal includes measures to halt receiving Syrian and Palestinian refugees coming from Syria completely ... except in the case of urgent humanitarian cases which would require [official] approval from both the health and interior ministries.”
Bassil also proposed coordinating with the Syrian government to secure the return of refugees to their homes located in safe areas of Syria “with the necessary political guarantees.”
The minister said there were areas in the neighboring state, under the control of the Syrian army, where the refugees could safely return, saying the regime informed Lebanon that it would offer guarantees for a safe return with certain conditions attached.
Bassil, who has been accused of being racist against Syrians on several occasions, did not specify what these conditions were.
The minister also said the establishment of temporary camps for the displaced Syrians who do not meet the conditions for safe return was possible, adding that Lebanon would secure the transfer of aid from international organizations and donor countries.
Bassil warned against the establishment of official Syrian refugee camps, saying it would bring about changes in Lebanon’s demography under the guise of a humanitarian service.
Bassil also said other countries should also bear the refugee crisis by taking in some of the displaced.
The bloc’s proposal also includes a unified policy across municipalities and local agencies to keep a close eye on the movements of refugees in their areas and remove illegal constructions.
“[Municipalities] should count the refugees, locate them, monitor their movements, specify the type of work they have taken up, remove illegal buildings, put an end to suspicious movement and address any health outbreaks,” Bassil said.
Such measures, Bassil noted, only require the approval of the president and the prime minister, and could be implemented by the resigned Cabinet.
Lebanon is grappling with the influx of Syrian refugees, who are dispersed nationwide and comprise nearly a quarter of the country’s population.
Bassil also said that refugees are competing with the Lebanese for work and resources: “The crisis affects every Lebanese who is already suffering from lack of electricity, water, social and health care services.”