BEIRUT: Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi said Saturday that the government’s plan to set a limit to the overwhelming influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon still required a “political” agreement, slamming delays in endorsing the plan.
“There is plan and a vision for [the refugee crisis] but there is not yet political agreement,” Azzi told a local television station, referring to recommendations made by a ministerial committee as part of a plan to address the increasing number of refugees.
Azzi also said he was surprised that the Cabinet was unable to endorse the plan, given that the committee was comprised of ministers affiliated with the country’s various political groups.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, there are over 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, either registered or awaiting registration. However officials say the number is much higher than that, with the presence of Palestinian refugees who have also escaped the crisis in Syria.
“We agreed in the committee to define what a refugee is because there are a large number of the Syrians who do not fit the description of a refugee, and we agreed to set a limit to the Syrian refugee influx,” Azzi said.
The committee also recommended the establishment of refugee camps inside Syrian territories after the U.N., the opposition and the regime agree to do so.
The priority, Azzi said, was establishing camps inside Syria.
“We could also establish the camps in border areas between Lebanon and Syria or camps right on the border,” he added.
Quoting a U.N. official as saying that only 17 percent of the promised $1.8 billion in aid has been sent to Lebanon so far, Azzi said: “I still don’t know how we hesitate to take such a decision to end this tragedy.”
“After three years of war in Syria, a million and half refugees in Lebanon, economic losses and 170,000 people living under the poverty line, do we not think that it is high time to take a clear decision to address the refugee crisis?” he said.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said the borders would remain open, but only those who were truly in need of refuge would be allowed to enter Lebanon.
“The measures that the government is expected to take with regards to the Syrian refugees are concerned with setting a limit to the Syrian influx because such an influx has affected employment and United Nations funds, especially by those who are coming into Lebanon from safe areas in Syria,” Machnouk, a member of the ministerial committee, said.
“We will not close the border but we will set standards for the entry: we will allow those whose residence is necessary in Lebanon,” he added.