BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri reiterated his support of the United Nations to lead the return of Syrian refugees during the second high-level steering committee meeting Friday.
The meeting at the Grand Serail was attended by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Social Affairs Minister Pierre Bou Assi and United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag.
“We are in support of a speedy and safe return of [the] Syrian displaced [population],” Hariri said, adding that refugees “under no circumstances” will be forcibly returned.
“We will only address this issue in close coordination ... with the U.N. and its specialized agencies,” he said. “We will make sure that the conditions for their return are properly met and in accordance with international law.”
Politicians are split over how to coordinate the return of Syrian refugees, specifically whether to directly cooperate with the Syrian government. Among the most supportive of the latter is Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who Tuesday criticized Lebanese politicians who refused to coordinate with the Syrian government of politicizing the issue.
Hariri also expressed his concern over the level of international aid, stating that Lebanon has so far received “less than half” of the amount as the same time last year.
“We are witnessing a rise in tensions between Syrians and Lebanese, confirming host community fatigue and confirming our appeal to increase support to host communities,” he said. “The entire country feels the weight [of Syrian refugees].”
Hariri also presented the four “pillars” to improve the country’s economy in light of the refugee crisis. The prime minister’s first pillar is to “jump-start” economic growth by creating a more inclusive economic environment for the private sector through the adoption of a “PPP [Private Public Partnership] law.”
Hariri next drew attention to “maintaining financial stability” as politicians ratify the draft 2017 state budget and a public sector wage hike. The third and fourth pillars addressed the international community. The prime minister said it was crucial to “mitigate the impact” of Syrian refugees and to begin a “long-term capital investment program.”
“Lebanon is shouldering a very heavy burden,” Hariri said. “We cannot do this alone and we need the help and assistance of our many friends in the international community”.
The committee last met in March, before the Syria-focused Brussels Conference. In Brussels, Hariri called on the international community to support the Lebanese government rather than “surrender to despair and allow poverty and unemployment in Lebanon to increase.”
When contacted for additional information, Sigrid Kaag’s office declined to give a statement.