BEIRUT: The Council of Maronite Bishops voiced concern Wednesday over the rising number of refugees coming from Syria to Lebanon, urging the state to take measures to address future repercussions.
“They [Maronite bishops] praise the delivery of humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees coming to Lebanon, but are concerned about their increasing numbers, in addition to the increased number of Palestinian refugees,” said a statement written after the council’s monthly meeting in Bkirki.
“The humanitarian aspect of the refugees requires efforts by all sides, and should take into consideration the need to take necessary measures so that hosting refugees does not lead to political, security and social threats,” the statement added.
This is the first time the Maronite Church has publically addressed the increasing refugee population.
More than 180,000 Syrian and 13,000 Palestinian refugees have fled to Lebanon since clashes broke out in March 2011, according to the most recent figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Meanwhile, Labor Minister Salim Jreissati responded to accusations made by Aley MP Akram Shehayeb earlier in the day that his ministry was helping the Syrian embassy in determining the political affiliation of Syrian workers in Lebanon by requesting their papers be examined by the embassy.
Jreissati responded harshly to the Aley MP, saying that Shehayeb had only just stopped taking orders from Syrian intelligence personnel, while the labor minister had never had contacts with Syrian intelligence. The minister explained that the measures had been taken after the receipt of a letter from the Defense Ministry warning that some Syrians were using fake IDs to commit crimes and violations in Lebanon.
“It turned out that some Syrians arrested by Lebanese authorities have been using fake IDs that facilitate moving around within Lebanese territory and in carrying out criminal acts in Lebanon, most recently the murder of priest Elie Makdissi,” said the letter signed by the Labor Ministry.
The Defense Ministry asked the Labor Ministry to inspect and monitor the whereabouts of the refugees so that criminals would not exploit the status of refugees to carry out suspicious acts, the letter further explained.
Shehayeb commented on the letter in a news conference, saying it was signed by Jreissati on Nov. 2, and requested the Department of Syrian Workers Affairs in the Labor Ministry to attach an affidavit from the Syrian Embassy confirming the validity of the personal documents presented by the workers in their work permits.
“In the [Syrian] Embassy, a Syrian is being interrogated in a dark room and asked about every detail of his life, including the main goal [of the interrogation], whether he supports or opposes the Syrian regime,” Shehayeb said.
According to Shehayeb, the Labor Ministry has no justification for taking such measures as Syrian workers enter Lebanon via legal border crossings where their documents are examined.
“Along with the humanitarian tragedy that Syrians suffer in Lebanon, there is an additional tragedy related to their security and life,” said Shehayeb, a member of MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc.
“It is unacceptable for the Labor Ministry to transform itself into a tool for an ambassador,” he said.
Shehayeb questioned whether such a measure had been implemented in the past and why only Syrians werebeing targeted. Shehayeb, whose bloc has been one of Assad’s harshest critics, also asked the government to question the minister about the issue before his bloc is forced to do so.