Lebanon News

Sleiman plays down impact of refugee influx

Klaus and his wife, Livia, and Sleiman and his wife, Wafaa, pose prior to their meeting at Prague Castle.

PRAGUE: President Michel Sleiman Thursday played down the consequences of the influx into Lebanon of Syrians fleeing the violence in their country. He said the refugees can stay with their relatives in Lebanon while the government and humanitarian organizations provide them with relief aid.

Sleiman voiced hope that Arab countries that witness popular revolts demanding democratic change can achieve a transfer of power without extremism and violence. He spoke at a joint news conference in Prague with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus at the end of a two-day official visit to the Czech Republic.

Sleiman said he held “deep and useful” talks with Klaus on ways to strengthen and expand bilateral relations in various fields.

“I also reviewed with him the most important events and developments at the regional and international levels and how to confront challenges arising from them, particularly with regard to the historic transformations in the Arab world and the global financial crisis whose negative repercussions both Lebanon and the Czech Republic have been able to avoid,” he said.

Praising the Czech Republic for moving from dictatorship to democracy, Sleiman said he and Klaus together expressed hope that the Arab countries currently witnessing pro-democracy protests would be able to achieve “a similar successful transition without extremism and violence.”

Asked how Lebanon will deal with the increasing number of Syrian refugees, Sleiman said: “Lebanon is bound with Syria by very deep social ties. There are blood ties between the Lebanese and Syrians. There are tens of thousands of Syrians who are working and residing in Lebanon on a permanent basis.

“Therefore, the influx of some Syrian families [into Lebanon] as a result of the turbulence in Syrian does not constitute a major problem because they can stay with their relatives,” he said. “Also, the Lebanese state and humanitarian organizations are providing these families with aid. We are treating the Syrians who fled as families, as relatives and not as refugees.”

According to the latest report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 6,916 Syrians currently registered as refugees in north Lebanon and the organization’s officials say they are working hard to provide for all refugees who seek help in the nation. But refugees and local activists say the figure represents a portion of the reality.

For his part, Klaus said he held an “open and very frank dialogue” with Sleiman, noting that there are many common interests between the two countries. He stressed the need for Lebanon to remain “a venue of dialogue between religions and cultures as it has always been.”

Sleiman and Klaus agreed during their talks in Prague to boost bilateral ties in all fields, particularly in the economic, trade, technical, cultural and investment spheres.

The two presidents discussed ways of expanding these relations in the industrial, agricultural, energy, communications and tourism fields and improving and encouraging investments between the two countries.

They agreed to sign new cooperation agreements and establish a partnership between the two countries, according to Baabda Palace. Agreement was also reached on reviving the joint committee and setting up other committees to follow up issues under discussion between Lebanon and the Czech Republic.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 02, 2012, on page 3.

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