BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil gave an unprecedented warning Friday, saying Lebanon was “inevitably heading to a civil strife” between Lebanese and Syrians unless quick measures were taken to reduce the number of refugees.
Speaking at a news conference on the Syrian refugee crisis, Bassil reiterated his rejection of the creation of full-fledged Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and blasted the international community for failing to assume its responsibilities while it continued fomenting Syria’s 3-year-old conflict.
“Matters have been exacerbated to the point of explosion. If they continue in that direction, we will be reaching civil strife between Lebanese and Syrians,” Bassil warned, calling on the international community to help Lebanon alleviate the burden of refugees and encourage them to return to Syria.
“Refugees should be given incentives to go back home; the assistance they receive from international aid organizations is instead encouraging them to stay in Lebanon and abuse the system,” Bassil said
“We support forgiving the refugees' overstay penalties on the condition that they go back to Syria and do not return to Lebanon,” Bassil added, pointing out that Lebanon was hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees, who now exceed 35 percent of the population.
Bassil, of Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement, said that setting up camps or legitimizing existing ones was a veiled attempt to settle the refugees and constituted a violation of the country’s Constitution, “which we will never accept.”
Instead, he called on the Syrian government to setup camps on Syrian territory or in the buffer area on the Syrian-Lebanese border, near the Masnaa border crossing.
The minister expressed surprise at the continuing influx of refugees despite the abatement of fighting in many of the Syrian provinces they had fled from.
Bassil also blasted the international community, which he accused of having little interest in the Syrian crisis and the devastating consequences it had on Lebanon.
“The international community has totally and drastically failed to shoulder its responsibilities in that regard, while taking interest in other issues such as Ukraine and now Daesh (The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria),” Bassil lamented.
Bassil’s warnings come a day after the U.N. said that Syrian refugees in Lebanon would constitute more than a third of the country’s population by the end of the year.
Lebanon currently hosts around 1.1 million Syrian refugees. The UNHCR says that more than $1.3 billion is still needed to reach the estimated cost of relieving the refugee crisis in Lebanon for the year of 2014.