BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk expressed confidence that the Cabinet’s new policy on Syrian refugees would succeed, announcing new arrangements to facilitate its implementation.
The Cabinet will “build special lines on all border crossings to solve the legal status of the Syrians willing to leave Lebanon,” Machnouk said in remarks published Sunday by Al-Mustaqbal newspaper.
He explained that the government would build a center inside Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport and another near the eastern town of Arsal to facilitate the passing of Syrian refugees back to Syria. Machnouk said this arrangement would “eventually lead to reducing pressure on the other border crossings in the north and the Masnaa area.”
The Cabinet Thursday agreed that Syrians wishing to return home for good should be exempt from any residency-related fees or fines at the border. It said the decision would go into effect in the next three months.
Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas told a Lebanese radio station that the policy proposal was submitted to the Cabinet by Machnouk, stressing that Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil “is naturally coordinating efforts with the Syrian ambassador.”
Exempting undocumented refugees from the need to pay the fees for their illegal stay, the decision is expected to remove a big obstacle hindering the return of many Syrian families back to their home country.
“The ‘violators-exemption’ decision will succeed to reduce the number of refugees,” Machnouk said. “Its fruits have already begun appearing in the increase of the number of departure procedures during the last few days.”
The minister said the new policy, along with the older Cabinet decision to deprive any Syrian refugee who returned to his home country from the “refugee” status, would succeed in “concretely reducing the burden of the refugee file.”
The United Nations Refugee Agency website says the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is 1,164,067, of whom around 32,000 are not registered. The refugees now equal over a quarter of Lebanon’s population of 4 million, which has prompted many political and religious figures to express concerns over the drastic demographic changes.