Lebanon News

Bassil under fire over closing borders suggestion

Ministers Gebran Bassil, left, and Mohammad Fneish attend a Cabinet session at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Energy Minister Gebran Bassil was criticized Thursday over his suggestion that Lebanon seal its borders as the government struggles to deal with the growing influx of refugees from war-torn Syria.

Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami said closing the border in the face of refugees was “unacceptable,” stressing that the issue was a humanitarian one.

“The issue, however, of closing the border or removing or returning refugees under these circumstances is totally unacceptable because this is a humanitarian situation and we must address the core of the problem and find solutions,” Karami told reporters.

Karami made his comments after meeting with the newly elected Greek Orthodox patriarch John X Yazigi at the former’s hometown of Tripoli, where divisions over the Syrian crisis have led to clashes between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad.

The minister admitted, however, that Lebanon could not accommodate all the refugees fleeing violence in their home country.

During a Cabinet session Wednesday, Bassil suggested that the 550-kilometer-long border with Syria be closed as Prime Minister Najib Mikati appealed to the international community to quickly come up with promised financial assistance.

U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly said Thursday the U.N. would allocate $267 million out of the $1.5 billion it is seeking in humanitarian aid to cope with the crisis in Syria.

Meanwhile, National Struggle Front member and former Minister of the Displaced Akram Shehayeb warned of a “wave of racism” from some members of the March 8 coalition concerning the refugees entering Lebanon.

“Yesterday, a minister who believes in Greater Syria and the ‘enlightened’ energy minister called for the closing of the border to the Syrian and Palestinian refugees,” Shehayeb said, referring to Bassil, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement.

“This stance comes amid a wave of racism against the people who need to be provided relief and embraced after they fled from the crimes of the Assad regime,” he added.

Allaeddine Terro, who took over Shehayeb’s ministry portfolio, said Lebanon could not absorb the number of refugees entering the country without Arab and international assistance.

“The repercussions of the Syrian crisis have begun to cast their shadow on the Lebanese scene, particularly regarding the waves of refugees, the last of which included thousands of our Palestinian brothers who entered Lebanon,” he said in a statement.

“It also forebodes of a dangerous humanitarian and social situation which Lebanon may not be able to handle without foreign assistance, particularly international and Arab [support],” he added.

“The worsening problem has become a burden on the Lebanese state and there needs to be an emergency humanitarian plan and the international community and international humanitarian organizations should be urged to shoulder their responsibilities,” he said.





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