BEIRUT: The Cabinet is expected to approve a comprehensive plan Thursday to address the needs of refugees fleeing Syria to Lebanon and the impact of their stay on the country.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati chaired a preparatory meeting Wednesday at the Grand Serail with the ministerial committee in order to finalize details of the plan.
“Today’s meeting was meant to ensure that the plan is easily approved tomorrow [Thursday],” a source close to Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour told The Daily Star. He said that the ministers had given their input on the strategy, which will be funded by the Lebanese government and donor states.
Addressing ministers at the meeting, Mikati said that the state’s resources to provide relief for Syrian refugees have been depleted in the face of a growing influx of refugees.
“Hence, it was pressing that the Lebanese government devise a plan to lay down a mechanism for coordination ... to address the needs of Syrian refugees and Lebanese hosting families and to clearly divide the missions among relevant bodies,” he explained.
“Through its plan, the government aims at guaranteeing a fair distribution of resources, preventing the squander [of the resources] on all levels and establishing strong contact channels among all concerned groups,” Mikati said.
The prime minister said the government’s strategy complements the plan launched by U.N. organizations to provide relief for Syrian refugees.
After the meeting, Abu Faour denied making an earlier comment before the session in which he said a second letter of complaint from Syria’s envoy to Lebanon against his ministry represented a threat to his life.
“I did not make these remarks ... when I have a statement, I say it here on this pulpit,” Abu Faour told reporters. “I will respond to this letter [by Syria’s ambassador] ... through the Foreign Ministry.”
Syria’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry in early December describing how he’d received complaints from Syrian refugees about some “extremist Salafist organizations” in Lebanon blackmailing Syrian refugees in the country by offering to provide aid to them only if they announce that they joined the Syrian opposition. The letter accused the Social Affairs Ministry of engaging in these acts as well.
Abu Faour said that Ali filed another letter to the Foreign Ministry that included further accusations against his ministry.
Prior to the meeting, Abu Faour commented on the letter saying: “I will respond to him [Ali] in writing and will tell him I expect a bomb from the Syrian regime [after receiving this letter].”
Sources that were present at the meeting of the ministerial committee said that attendees did not discuss Abu Faour’s remarks. Abu Faour received a phone call before retracting his remarks, the sources added.
In an indirect response to Ali’s letters, Mikati said during the meeting that “involving this issue [of refugees] in political bickering and targeting any ministry or Lebanese official institution amounts ... to an unacceptable fabrication that negatively affects the issue of refugees.”
Mikati said that since Syrian refugees have begun to flow into Lebanon, the Cabinet has not based how it deals with them on their stances toward the Syrian regime.
“It dealt with the matter from only a humanitarian perspective and as dictated by humanitarian standards and conventions,” he said.
For his part, Ali said Wednesday that Lebanon should distinguish between Syrians who come to Lebanon seeking safety and members of extremist groups.
Speaking to reporters after visiting former President Emile Lahoud, Ali said Lebanon has a duty to provide aid to those seeking safety, while he denounced extremist groups, which he said reflected negatively on Lebanon and the region.
“Examining [the identity and motives of those entering Lebanon from Syria] should be done strictly and at an early stage for the sake of Lebanon and Syrian-Lebanese ties,” Ali added.
Separately, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of General Security, said that borders would not be closed to Syrians and Palestinians fleeing violence in Syria.
“Humanitarian considerations do not allow closing borders to these people. We are facing two options: either to behave humanely or to be racist ... and you know what decision we made,” Ibrahim told officers from the General Security during a visit he paid to border posts and crossings in the country on New Year’s Eve.
Ibrahim said there are 160,000 Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon, though the total number of Syrian refugees in the country is much higher.
“We also have around 13,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria, most of them came from Yarmouk [refugee camp],” he said.
Abbas expected that violence will drag on in Syria, saying that General Security officers and personnel at border crossings and posts should adapt to the situation.
“We are concerned about how to confront the repercussions of this crisis on Lebanon, including the refugees crisis,” Ibrahim said.
“Contrary to what some think, no matter how long it lasts, this crisis is temporary, and Syrians will return home sooner or later,” he added.
Palestinian refugees coming from Syria held protests Wednesday near the U.N. Relief and Works Agency offices in Tyre, Sidon and Beirut, demanding shelter and other forms of humanitarian aid.