BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Monday sharply criticized what he described as a global effort to integrate refugees into Lebanese society rather than facilitate their return home, calling the policy a “new form of oppression.”
Bassil’s comments came as he addressed attendees at the third International Conference on the Victims of Ethnic and Religious Violence in the Middle East, in Brussels.
“The international community’s continued dependence on the policy of integration of displaced people into their host communities, rather than [facilitating] their return home, is a new way of eliminating Lebanon’s model of pluralism,” Bassil said at Monday’s conference.
“Don’t you see that this international policy is a new form of oppression on distinct human groups, such as the Lebanese, in the name of humanity?” the minister added.
Bassil did not specify which refugee groups he was referring to, though Lebanon is host to at least one million Syrian refugees who fled in recent years from their country’s civil war. According to a 2017 official census, approximately 174,000 Palestinian refugees also live in the country.
Pressure to “integrate what is equal to half our population [contributes] to a population density that is among the highest in the world,” Bassil told attendees. “It shows an intention to abolish Lebanon’s plurality.”
Bassil’s speech Monday echoed sentiments expressed repeatedly by other prominent Lebanese politicians, many of whom publicly espouse concerns that a prolonged refugee presence in Lebanon could alter the country’s delicate sectarian balance.