Lebanon News

Arab League to hold talks on refugees

Syrian refugees work to keep water from out of their tents at a temporary camp in the eastern town of Marj, near the border.

BEIRUT: Arab foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo next week to address the growing number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the National News Agency said over the weekend.

“[Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Adnan] Mansour was informed Sunday that the Arab League has agreed to hold a meeting on the case of Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” the NNA said.

The meeting, which will take place on Jan. 13, will address possible assistance to Lebanon by members of the Arab League.

According to the agency, Mansour said he would present a comprehensive report on the situation of the refugees in the country and their needs.

As part of a comprehensive plan to assist the refugees, the Cabinet agreed to ask the Arab League and international organizations to hold extraordinary meetings to highlight the situation of the refugees last week.

For his part, Mansour filed a separate request for an Arab League meeting to address the refugee crisis.

The rising influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon has increased local and international pressure on the government in Beirut to take better measures to address the issue. But the government has said it is facing difficulties in assisting those displaced by the violence in neighboring Syria.

According to the latest report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the total number of displaced who have registered with the agency stands at over 180,000.

Last week, more than 5,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR, the agency said Friday, bringing the total number of refugees receiving protection and assistance from the Lebanese government, NGOs and the agency to over 180,100.

The largest number, over 67,000, are registered in the north with most coming from the Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and Damascus.

Last week, 1,650 Syrian refugee children enrolled in Lebanese public schools, bringing the total number to 10,000 throughout the country.

Metn MP Sami Gemayel called on the Cabinet to establish a crisis group to handle the refugee crisis.

“What the government agreed on is not a plan, a crisis group should be established to seriously tackle this issue,” Gemayel said in a news conference Monday. “We are not calling for border closure, but border control.”

“There are thousands of unregistered Palestinians in the refugee camps in Lebanon ... Palestinians fleeing Syria would move to the camps and would stay in Lebanon,” the Metn MP added.

Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, who had reportedly asked for the closure of the border with Syria to stop the influx of refugees, said that he only called for limiting the number of refugees entering the country.

“We never asked to expel Syrian refugees,” said Bassil in a news conference over the weekend.

“The problem is that we do not have the capacity to help all the refugees ... If we found the funds necessary for a year, what about next year?” Bassil said.

“How could we be sectarian when the Syrian refugees are Christians and Muslims? How could we be racist when we have common traits with the Syrian people?” he asked.

Bassil also snapped back at his critics, saying his proposal to put an admission ceiling aimed at meeting the needs of the refugees was in no way linked to the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, Director of General Security Brig. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim discussed with Palestinian Ambassador to Beirut Ashraf Dabbour the challenges facing the Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria to Lebanon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 08, 2013, on page 4.




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