ARSAL, Lebanon: One of the largest groups of Syrian refugees to leave Lebanon to return home arrived in Syria Monday in the third such departure over the past month. A General Security source said 668 refugees had their paperwork approved, and left for Syria from northeast Lebanon’s Arsal, though local media reported 850 people had crossed the border. The returnees travelled in their own vehicles as opposed to buses previously used to transport large groups of refugees.
On June 28, a group of nearly 400 refugees returned from Arsal, followed by a second group of 377 on July 7. This third cohort of refugees who had signed up to return to Syria started their journey to the Syrian town of Qara, east of Qalamoun.
A fourth group is set to follow in the coming days, according to comments made by General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim to local channel LBCI last week.
The returning families were part of a list of over 3,000 people who had signed up in Arsal, where tens of thousands of refugees who had fled the violence of Syria’s seven-year civil war are still residing in camps. The list also went through General Security to ensure that there were no security concerns for the returning families.
During Monday’s journey, the Lebanese Army, as well as the Lebanese Red Cross, reinforced their presence near Wadi Hmayyed to be prepared in the event of any emergency. An office for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR was also open.
Syria’s national news agency said the first of “hundreds of Syrians coming from Lebanese territory” had arrived and were heading to east of Qalamoun, just outside the capital Damascus.
Amidst the growing numbers of returnees, Lebanon is also set to be included in the plan to organize Syrian refugees returns discussed last week between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the meeting, which took place in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, the Russian Defense Ministry announced Friday that it had sent Washington a proposal for a joint plan to support the return of refugees to Syria.
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s adviser for Russian Affairs, George Chaaban, told The Daily Star Sunday that Lebanese and Russian officials will collaborate “to set the framework, the method, suggestions and possibilities” of cooperation. Lebanon hosts close to 1 million Syrian refugees, although some Lebanese officials say the number is much higher.
“During the week [after] Hariri returns [from abroad early this week], contacts with the Russian officials will begin in order to [address] these issues,” Chaaban said.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced that over 1.7 million refugees would be able to return to Syria in the near future, including a possible 890,000 from Lebanon.