BEIRUT: Germany pledged Thursday an addition 5 million euros ($6.8 million) to support efforts to address the Syrian refugee crisis, with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier saying he hoped other European countries would follow suit.
Steinmeier made the announcement during a news conference in Beirut after meeting with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Steinmeier acknowledged that the refugee crisis has had a profound effect on Lebanon, the only country neighboring Syria that has left its borders open to those fleeing the war.
“Lebanon cannot on its own bear the burden of the refugees, and I met with Lebanese officials today to discuss ways of alleviating that load,” Steinmeier told reporters.
Steinmeier also said his country had expanded an asylum program that has already seen 20,000 Syrian refugees relocated from Lebanon to Germany, announcing that his government had “decided to accept 10,000 additional Syrian refugees.”
Bassil reiterated that 50 percent of the people residing in Lebanon do not have Lebanese nationality.
“Half of Lebanon’s residents are by now not Lebanese,” he said.
“One third are Syrian refugees, and one third of that third are of Palestinian origin,” he added.
“The population density has reached 550 per square kilometer.”
Bassil also insisted that many Syrians in Lebanon had not, in fact, fled the violence that has consumed the country for the past three years.
“Forty-two percent of Syrians currently registered as refugees in Lebanon come from Syrian districts closer to other neighboring countries than to Lebanon,” he said.
“This shows that the migration has really an economic nature.”
Bassil said Lebanon was working to enable “the swift and respectful return of Syrian economic displaced to their own country.”
He repeated that the Cabinet had decided to establish “residential compounds” for refugees either inside Syria or along the border with Syria.
Steinmeier, however, expressed some reticence over this idea.
“Establishing refugee camps inside Syria requires negotiations with Syria to guarantee security. But until now there are no negotiations with Syria for this to happen. I see no possibility of establishing these camps in safe conditions,” he said.
Bassil and Steinmeier also discussed the threat of terrorism both in Lebanon and in Europe.
Bassil said the “potential threat of terrorism striking in Europe” should be taken seriously, particularly in light of the large number of foreign fighters – including hundreds of Europeans – who are fighting alongside the Syrian opposition.