BEIRUT: The European Union and Arab foreign ministers Wednesday called on the international community to support Lebanon in tackling the Syrian refugee crisis, as Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said the crisis posed an existential threat to the nation.
The call was made in a joint declaration adopted during the third European Union–League of Arab States Foreign Affairs Ministerial Meeting in Athens, Greece.
The declaration underlined “the importance of supporting efforts exerted by the international community, including the International Support Group for Lebanon, to help Lebanon mitigate the effects of the Syrian crisis.”
The declaration called on the international community to back the Lebanese government as it faces the challenges raised by the refugee crisis.
Addressing the conference, Bassil praised EU-Arab cooperation but warned about the deluge of Syrian refugees to Lebanon.
“Times are crucial for Lebanon; the demographic and socioeconomic realities are changing drastically and threatening the existence of our country,” he said, calling on the EU to help.
Citing the rise in unemployment, the expanding number of school students and economic losses, Bassil said: “this situation cannot last without really exploding.”
“Lebanon’s stability is not only threatened, its existence is at stake, as more than 50 percent of its population is comprised of foreigners, namely Syrians and Palestinians,” he said.
Bassil announced his Cabinet’s plan to limit the refugee flow, stating that no more refugees would be accepted, claiming that 42 percent of the incoming refugees had come from safe areas far away from Lebanese borders.
He also said the government would reduce the numbers of refugees residing in Lebanon, adding that 40 percent have moved to border areas, making them “economic refugees.”
A policy is in progress to create refugee camps for Syrians inside Syrian territory, or in the no-man’s land between the two countries.
Bassil also raised alarm bells about terrorism in Lebanon, which, he said, in the absence of any solid united commitment by all Arab countries, was becoming a harsh reality for the region.
“ Lebanon will always be at the forefront for confronting ‘the refusal of the other,’” he said at the end of his speech, “and the model of co-living, co-sharing and co-believing in one God, cherishing common values of human rights and human dignity.”