BEIRUT: Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil reiterated a warning Friday against establishing refugee camps for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“I am against establishing refugee camps in Lebanon for many reasons. ... Unfortunately, such camps will eventually turn into centers for armament,” Bassil said following a meeting with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ resident representative, Ninette Kelley, according to a statement from the minister’s press office.
According to Bassil, refugee camps, if established, would turn into “a shelter for outlaws and wanted people who have nothing to do with the humanitarian aspect of the Syrian crisis.”
“We cannot separate this from politics,” he was quoted as saying.
The minister also criticized officials who are throwing support behind establishing such camps and questioned if such suggestions were genuinely out of humanitarian concerns.
“We hear officials and ministers in the state saying that establishing camps for refugees is inevitable,” Bassil said, in an apparent response to both President Michel Sleiman and Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour.
President Michel Sleiman said earlier this week that Lebanon could build refugee camps in order to better monitor and regulate the large number of Syrian refugees in the country.
Days earlier, Abu Faour said refugee camps for the displaced could be inevitable.
Bassil urged officials not to rush to such measures: “I hope everyone will think carefully about this before trying to impose such a status for political, security or even military purposes.”
Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said “humanitarian considerations” should be the priority when tackling the refugee issue.
“All Lebanese are dealing with the issue of the displaced with high levels of responsibility and humanitarian feelings, and this is a sensitive issue,” he said, speaking during a radio interview.
“The government hasn’t delayed in authoring a plan to treat the problem, and it is a complicated and sensitive one,” Haj Hasan said.
The minister, a member of Hezbollah, added that “we didn’t know that things were going to develop in this fashion in Syria.”
Meanwhile, former President Amin Gemayel complained that the government “lacks a clear plan” on how to deal with refugees and the displaced.
The National News Agency said the former president, who is on a visit to France, said he rejected the “repetition of scenes of Palestinian displacement, which turned into “a permanent refugee situation.”
Gemayel warned that the Syrian refugee situation could end up threatening Lebanon’s stability and the country’s identity.