BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam Friday partly blamed problems facing the border town of Arsal on the large number of Syrian refugees it is hosting, promising to find solutions to alleviate the refugee burden.
Speaking to a delegation from Arsal who visited him at his Moseitbeh residence, Salam promised to extend state support to help rebuild the town that was a battleground for five days between the Lebanese Army and militants from Syria earlier this month.
“I highly appreciate the steadfastness of the people of Arsal, and your demands reflect your true needs. You are requesting a minimum compensation for what you have endured during the crisis, and what you need to reinforce Arsal’s immunity,” Salam told the Arsal residents in the presence of Gen. Mohammad Kheir, head of the High Relief Committee tasked with reconstructing the embattled town.
Salam argued that part of Arsal’s problems were caused by the large numbers of Syrian refugees who sought shelter in the Sunni town that has been supportive of the 3-year rebellion against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“Unfortunately the generosity and hospitality of Arsal’s people was exploited in a very negative way, which led to implicating the town in a very big problem,” Salam said in reference to the overrunning of the town by militants from Syria’s Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
He promised that his government would increase its efforts to find a suitable solution to the Syrian refugee crisis, which has exacerbated pressure on Lebanon at the economic, social and security levels.
“We will seek to alleviate the influx of refugees to Arsal and give the town a chance to recover from the ordeal that it had suffered,” Salam said.
The head of the Future Movement, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, has donated $15 million for Arsal’s reconstruction.
Over 1.3 million Syrian refugees have sought shelter in Lebanon over the past three years, fleeing raging violence at home.
Arsal is estimated to host as many refugees as it has residents, putting a tremendous burden on the town’s infrastructure and socio-economic capacities.