BEIRUT: Syrian officials have opened discussions with the Lebanese government over the return of refugees to areas of Syria the government is rebuilding, the country’s envoy said Thursday, as the issue of Syrian refugees continues to gain international concern.
“We are coordinating with the foreign minister and the Lebanese government on finding common ground that guarantees the best care and safe return of Syrian refuges to areas the government is rebuilding in a swift manner,” Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdel-Karim Ali told reporters after meeting with Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour.
“Syria is the only safe haven for its citizens, providing them with more dignity than any other country,” he added.
Mansour has said that part of the government’s plan to cope with the rising number of refugees is to guarantee their return to safe areas in Syria.
Ali also said that he and Mansour had discussed the need to prevent the smuggling of arms and gunmen through Lebanon’s border, which the Syrian envoy said was damaging to both countries.
“We don’t mean expelling the refugees, but that Syria has increased safety by a large percentage in its areas, as extremist and terrorist groups have become weaker,” Ali said, adding that the number of refugees will decrease when the funding of armed groups ends.
As the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has risen to more than 200,000, the government has drafted a response plan and international appeal for $180 million in aid to help care for the refugees.
The plan was set up to allow the government’s ministries to be able to assist 200,000 refugees, a number that has already been exceeded. Officials say around 30,000-40,000 refugees are coming into Lebanon every month and there will likely be 400,000 by June.
Also Thursday, Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said Lebanon should help Syrian refugees as much as it can and made fiery accusations against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
“I strongly condemn anyone who says we should find a way to deport the Syrian refugees from Lebanon ... The Syrian and Lebanese people are one and we should provide Syrian refugees with all possible assistance,” said Qabbani in a news conference in which he launched an aid campaign for the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
The campaign, launched from Dar al-Fatwa under the title, “You should love those who come to you,” was funded by Kuwaitis, Saudis and Lebanese.
The influx of refugees to the country has provoked concern among some Lebanese officials, notably Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil, who has said the country should set limits on the newcomers.
Qabbani also made strong statements against the Assad regime while praising the “heroic” Syrian people who he said would eventually win the battle.
“The regime in Syria is tyrannical ... We have never witnessed a regime killing its own people,” the mufti said.
“You will see with your own eyes the fate of oppressors in Syria and their supporters,” he added.
Meanwhile, Palestinian refugees who fled Syria to Lebanon and the organizations helping them held a protest in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Beirut, criticizing the lack of aid for Palestinians and how they are treated differently from Syrian refugees.
Children held signs at the protest saying, “Why is the international community miserly to some places, and generous in some others?”
The protesters handed a letter to the head of the ICRC in Lebanon requesting for more shelter, medicine and food.
The Palestinian Popular Committees said over 20,000 Palestinian refugees have come from Syria to Lebanon. They said 5,361 families are staying in Palestinian camps in Lebanon, with the largest number located in Sidon’s camps.
General Security announced it was extending the deadline for newly arrived Palestinian’s to register with authorities, the National News Agency reported. Previously Palestinians were given 30 days from entering the country to submit their documentation but those who haven’t done so now have until Feb. 19 to register.
Army commander Gen. Jean Kahawagi discussed the situation of Palestinians coming from Syria with Palestinian Interior Minister Saeed Abu Ali as well as Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabbour.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati also met with Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Terje Roed-Larsen about the Syrian refugee situation. Roed-Larsen praised Lebanon for keeping borders open.
The Iranian Embassy also announced they would be providing 30,000 food parcels for refugees in Lebanon.