BEIRUT: For the second day running, a small group gathered outside the European Union's Embassy in Beirut to call for the return of Palestinian and Syrian refugees to their countries, the state-run National News Agency reported.
The demonstration was organized by a group called "Lebanon Uprise," which said on its Facebook page that it is a group for Lebanese citizens who "believe in Lebanon as a final home for its citizens, independent and free."
The group has sent a letter to EU Ambassador Ralf Tarraf requesting that the EU endorse a decision to return refugees immediately. The letter, posted on the group's Facebook page, included a list of statistics on Lebanon's growing poverty, unemployment and declining economic growth rates, which it claims have been caused by the presence of refugees in the country.
A similar demonstration was staged at the embassy on Friday, but was met with a counter-protest against hate speech and racism. One protester shouted, "The politicians who are oppressing you are also oppressing our Syrian and Palestinian brothers."
As of Oct. 31, there are 918,974 Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR. However, Lebanese politicians estimate the number to be closer to 1.5 million.
The number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is also disputed: while around 450,000 Palestinians are registered in Lebanon, there are an estimated 175,000 who actually reside in the country.
The European Union denied it ever “advocated for a settlement or integration of Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” in a statement released during the protest.
The EU said it agreed that “returns should happen in so far as they are voluntary, dignified, safe and in line with international law.”
“It is not the decision of the European Union for Syrian refugees to stay in Lebanon or to leave the country ... We agree with our Lebanese counterparts that their stay in Lebanon is temporary,” a statement by the agency said.
The union said it “stepped up its support to Lebanon” by providing assistance to host communities, as they believe “Lebanon should not carry this burden alone.”
The EU assistance has reached 1.8 billion euros, the statement said.