Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said that his country would not force Syrian refugees to return home.
Hariri made the announcement speech at a donor conference in Beirut calling for $2.68 billion in humanitarian aid for the crisis this year.
“We want the refugees to live in a dignified way, to take their children to school and to have this generation of Syrians return to rebuild their country,” he said.
Stressing that Lebanon would abide by international law, Hariri said that refugees would only return “once favourable conditions are available”.
My government’s position is very clear. Nobody’s going to force anyone to go back if they don’t want to go back.
He also pointed out the help that Lebanon had already delivered much aid to Syrians in the country through their cooperation with the UN.
“Our situation is much better than some countries that did not allow these refugees to enter, at least we opened our doors, and we saw the fear and despair in their eyes and the reality of the conflict of their country.”
UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, Philippe Lazarini, echoed the prime minister’s statement, but warned that Lebanese society is witnessing “increasing fatigue” as a result of the refugee crisis. He highlighted that such concern may turn into anger and tension between different segments of society, amid great pressures on employment opportunities, if not addressed by the government.
“Return should always be based on a free and voluntary decision, full awareness of the actual situation of the refugees themselves, and should be far from any form of coercion,” Lazareni said.
“The government and the international community will not only be able to know the size of the population and assess needs, but will facilitate the implementation of sustainable solutions outside Lebanon, through the transfer of refugees to a third country or voluntary repatriation to Syria, when conditions allow,” he promised.
The clarification on refugee policy comes after comments from Lebanese President Michel Aoun last year calling for the international community to help Syrians in Lebanon return to “calm” parts of Syria because his country could no longer cope.
Aoun said he wanted the safe return of refugees and was not asking those who have political problems with the Syrian government to go back, but also asked international aid agencies not to “scare” refugees who want to return from doing so.
The president also rejected a proposal to give citizenship to Syrian refugees, instead citing the need to look for a speedy solution to the conflict in its neighbouring country.
One million Syrian refugees are registered with the UNHCR in Lebanon, and the number of Syrians in the country is expected to be much higher as there are thousands of unregistered families and many more who are awaiting formal recognition. They make up one quarter of the country’s population.