BEIRUT: The waves of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria into Lebanon will have a devastating impact on Lebanon, warned Energy Minister Gebran Bassil in remarks published Thursday.
“The issue of refugees from Syria has become a big and dangerous [problem] and it could scupper the election law and the entire country,” Bassil told the local Al-Akhbar newspaper.
Bassil also criticized the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, saying: “We cannot keep ourselves busy with secondary issues and put the core issue to one side."
“We have warned of an influx of refugees since the number was 7,000. Today, they [refugees] have become over 170,000.”
Bassil said the refugee problem should not be addressed under the pretext of humanitarian concerns or the exchange of diplomatic messages.
“We, in the Cabinet, will stand in the defense of Lebanon's right in terms of what is best for it,” he said.
Bassil has come under heavy criticism over his stances regarding the refugees.
In late December, Bassil called for the closure of Lebanon’s borders, which prompted accusations of racism.
Bassil has defended his stance, saying they stem from a “national thinking, of which we are proud.”
In separate remarks to the As-Safir newspaper, Bassil said all that his party was calling for was for better controls of Lebanon’s borders.
He also reiterated his warning that the Syria refugee crisis could “explode.”
“If our efforts to prevent an explosion means being accused of racism then there is nothing wrong with an additional sacrifice in order to maintain the country's interests,” Bassil said.
According to Lebanese officials there are 160,000 Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon, though the total number of Syrian refugees in the country is much higher.
In addition, there are around 13,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria, most of them from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, according to Lebanese officials.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel urged the various political leaders not to “politicize” the Syrian refugee crisis and to spare Lebanon the negative repercussions of the unrest in neighboring Syria.
“Controlling the border is normal,” Charbel said while playing down requests for a border closure.
Cabinet is expected to approve Thursday a comprehensive plan to address the needs of the Syrian refugees and the impact of their stay in the country.