GENEVA: The head of Lebanon’s Maronite Church suggested on Wednesday that Syrian refugees should be housed in camps inside Syria, reflecting growing frustration among Lebanese over the burden imposed on their country by their neighbors’ war.
The United Nations has registered 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon since the conflict began three years ago, the highest concentration worldwide. They are housed in homes and local communities rather than refugee camps.
Cardinal Beshara Rai, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, told a news conference in Geneva that the presence of so many Syrians represented a huge economic, social, political and security burden for Lebanon.
“Why not install some camps for them in Syrian territory where there is security? The area of Syria is 20 times greater than that of Lebanon,” he said.
“There is plenty of spare space in secure territory or at least to facilitate the passage of humanitarian aid in no man’s land between the borders of Lebanon and Syria.”
Ordinary Lebanese initially welcomed the Syrians but were now paying a price for doing so, he said.
“They take all the work from the Lebanese people and the Lebanese are chased out.”
Rai did not elaborate on the suggestion of building camps in Syria or say exactly where they could be built.
Many refugees coming to Lebanon fled as Syrian forces and Hezbollah captured territory from rebels close to the border, making it unlikely that they would risk returning to areas controlled by those same forces.
While the refugee population has ballooned – not just in Lebanon but also Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, to a total of 2.65 million – even greater numbers are displaced within Syria.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates that 6.5 million have been internally displaced, with many made homeless several times, as apparently safe shelters became caught up in new rounds of fighting.
Hundreds of thousands more have left Syria but have not requested international assistance.
Many Syrians have requested asylum in rich countries, especially Sweden and Germany, but only a tiny fraction of them have had their request granted or been resettled.
Despite a huge humanitarian appeal and universal calls for an end to the violence, the U.N. has too little cash to feed all the Syrians in need and this week began cutting their food rations.