BEIRUT: Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said Monday that Lebanon was considering closing its border with Syria to halt the influx of refugees.
“The Lebanese government sees no objection in taking any decisions or actions that will protect Lebanese territory and Lebanese people and guests [residing] in its territories,” Derbas told reporters following a meeting of the ministerial committee tasked with following up on the Syrian refugee crisis.
Derbas said that while the frontier with Syria remained an open border, every nation in the world sought to seal its border in the presence of danger.
Derbas said the government was still mulling a decision concerning group resettlement for Syrian refugees.
“However, the issue begins with the need to cut in refugee numbers,” he said.
He said the Lebanese government had successfully resolved the issue of returning Syrian refugees who had been stranded on the border, pointing to a communication regarding this between Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali.
Derbas said Ali stressed there were no obstacles facing Syrian refugees returning home.
He said the committee pledged to “strictly” follow up on the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly the refugees trying to return to Syria after the five-day battle between the Lebanese Army and jihadists in the northeastern border town of Arsal that ended last week.
The committee also agreed that those fleeing embattled areas adjacent to the Lebanese border would be considered refugees, but “other than that, no one else will be granted entry into Lebanon anymore,” Derbas said after the nearly two-hour meeting at the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam chaired the meeting that was also attended by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Bassil.
Earlier, Machnouk had contradicted comments over the weekend by Syria’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, who said that issue of returning Syrian refugees had been successfully resolved.
“The Syrian regime outright rejects the return of any refugees, whatever their legal status,” Machnouk said in remarks published Monday by local daily An-Nahar.
He said Syrian refugees in Lebanon, close to 1.3 million, were divided into four categories: those who face prosecution in Syria and whom Lebanon refuses to deport, some with acceptable identification documents, some who have entered Lebanon illegally with General Security securing the settlement of such refugees, and those with no identification cards and who cannot be returned to Syria.
A General Security source said that approximately 2,000 Syrian refugees who were stranded for two days on a highway in the Bekaa Valley had returned to Syria. The refugees were permitted to cross into their home country late Saturday night after coordination between the Lebanese and Syrian authorities.
Many of those refugees had been barred from Syrian territory Thursday, over relations with anti-regime fighters, a security source told The Daily Star.
Derbas said the committee discussed the possibility of holding a meeting of neighboring countries sometime in October after a conference scheduled for September was postponed in the wake of the fighting in Arsal.
“The Syrian refugees issue is now under strict control. The government has a strong hand in the issue. This is our land and we are responsible for it," he said. "These are our people and we are responsible for them, and likewise we are responsible for the guests who are living in our territory.”
Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army carried out raids in several informal Syrian refugee camps in the eastern town of Hermel and the border town of Masharih al-Qaa, the National News Agency said.