BEIRUT: Energy Minister Gebran Bassil defended his stance with regards to the rising number of Syrians in the country, saying Lebanon should set limits to the refugee influx.
“We are facing a rapidly developing situation which led us to take a clear stance on two points: the first is to limit the influx of refugees from Syria but not close the border and the second is to lessen the burden on Lebanon,” Bassil said during a news conference in his Batroun residence, north of Beirut.
“No one said anything about expelling refugees or returning them home,” he added.
Bassil came under fire in recent days for suggesting Lebanon’s borders should be closed to refugees given that Lebanon is incapable of meeting the demands of thousands who have fled violence in their home country.
To address the alarming humanitarian situation of the refugees, the government approved Thursday a comprehensive plan that appealed to Arab and international countries to cover nearly $180 million of refugee costs that Lebanon is unable to provide.
Bassil rejected the proposal, along with other Free Patriotic Movement ministers, suggesting instead the closure of Lebanon’s border with Syria as a measure to stem the flow of refugees.
During his conference, Bassil said that Lebanon should adopt strategies such as ones taken by Turkey and Jordan which sets conditions for the refugees and a limit to the number of people it can provide shelter to.
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 in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus between government forces and rebel groups.
As for the security concern with regards to the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Bassil quoted Interior Minister Marwan Charbel who said there were training camps for fighters in the country.
“The interior minister himself spoke of training camps for Syrian fighters. And we saw Syrians fighting in Tripoli, not to mention that the Army has detained Syrians who were fighting in Qasqas, are these actual refugees?” he asked.
“ Lebanon has an obligation toward Syrians and it is to stand by it but we should look into our resource available for the refugees. What about the repercussions from such an influx?” he added
As part of the government’s plan for the refugees, Adnan Mansour contacted Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby Saturday and put him in the picture with regard to the Syrian refugee situation in the country and informed him “that he [Mansour] will send him a memo stipulating Lebanon's desire to call for an exceptional meeting of Arab foreign ministers to discuss the issue.”
Elaraby, according to Mansour’s press office, said he will hold his own talks and call for a meeting in the next few days.
Bassil also spoke about Lebanon’s experience with refugees and said the country should learn from its own history.
“We cannot part ourselves from our previous experience such as that we have with Palestinians although the circumstances were different. But the result should be taken into account,” the minister said.
He added that When Palestinians arrived to Lebanon in 1949, no one thought they would stay.
“All we want is for Palestinians to have their right of return but nationalizing them has been proposed,” he said.
Bassil also cast doubt on the accusations directed at him for suggesting controls of the influx of refugees.
“In response to our stance, they called us racist and sectarian or that our remarks serve an electoral purpose. This response raised our doubts that the situation is not normal and that there is someone taking advantage of the influx,” he said.