BEIRUT: Lebanon must stop the influx of refugees from Syria over concerns that extremist Muslim groups are infiltrating the country, warned Energy Minister Gebran Bassil in remarks published Friday.
“Our humanitarian duty requires us to put an end to what is happening to Syrians and Lebanese,” Bassil told the local daily Al-Akhbar.
“We are importing the most dangerous thing in the Syria crisis not as refugees but those Takfiri and security cells infiltrating [among the refugees],” he added.
Takfiri groups view other Muslims as infidels if they do not adhere to the same extremist ideology.
The Cabinet approved Thursday a comprehensive plan to deal with the large numbers of refugees fleeing to Lebanon from strife-torn Syria despite objections from five ministers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc, including Bassil.
The government plan appeals to the international community for nearly $180 million to help cash-strapped Lebanon address the needs of thousands of refugees.
During the Cabinet session, Bassil demanded the closure of Lebanon’s border with Syria as a measure to curtail the flow of refugees. The proposal was rejected by most ministers.
Over 170,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Lebanon since the conflict erupted in Syria in March 2011, in addition to nearly 15,000 Palestinians who have fled to Lebanon following last month’s fierce clashes between government forces and rebels in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus.
In his interview with Al-Akhbar, Bassil said the Change and Reform bloc, to whom he belongs, will continue to object to the Syrian refugee plan and exert efforts to deal with the crisis.
“Our position was clear and differs from that of Amal and Hezbollah. We are the only ones to have objected and we will continue to object because the relief plan ... practically aims to attract more refugees to Lebanon with the willingness to receive grants and refugees alike.”
“I’m sure that everyone, including Hezbollah and Amal, will become aware of the negative consequences of the refugee issue on all Lebanese,” he said, while stressing that his party’s stance should not create a problem with Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, also a member in the Change and Reform bloc, voiced similar concerns.
"Everybody is convinced that the issue of Syrian refugees should be regulated because Lebanon cannot absorb the huge number of displaced people and provide them with services," Abboud told the Kataeb-run Voice of Lebanon.
Bassil said the bloc would work from outside the government to follow up on the refugee issue with civil society groups and municipalities “to draw their attention to the risks entailed by this crisis.”
He said all Cabinet ministers during Thursday’s session acknowledged the danger of the refugee crisis but “lacked the courage to announce the appropriate position.”
He said Cabinet turned down the bloc’s suggestion to stop refugees from entering the country and look into easing the burden on Lebanon through talks with Arab states and other countries concerned with receiving refugees.