Lebanese President Michel Aoun urged world powers on Sunday to “make all efforts” to enable Syrian refugees to return home, regardless of any political solution to the war there.
According to a Reuters report, Aoun told an Arab economic summit in Beirut that Lebanon had proposed solutions for safe returns for the meeting to agree on.
Since conflict broke out in Syria in 2011, more than 1 million people have fled across the border to Lebanon, where aid agencies say most refugees live in extreme poverty.
The United Nations says conditions are not yet in place for safe returns. Rights groups have warned against forced returns while a Syrian peace deal remains elusive, and refugees often say they fear conscription into the army.
“Lebanon calls on the international community to make all efforts possible and provide suitable conditions for a safe return of displaced Syrians… without linking that with reaching a political solution,” Aoun said.
He also proposed creating an Arab bank for reconstruction and development “to help all affected Arab states overcome adversity and contribute to their sustainable economic growth.”
A key point of contention ahead of the summit has been whether to bring Syria back into the Arab League, more than seven years after its membership was suspended.
Lebanese officials have stepped up calls for refugees to leave the country now that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has reclaimed most of the country with Russian and Iranian help.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, which fights alongside Assad, and its political allies including Aoun have urged rapprochement with Damascus. Other politicians oppose this, insisting the United Nations must oversee any repatriations.
Under deals Hezbollah has helped broker, tens of thousands of refugees have left Lebanon for Syria in the past year – a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the refugee crisis.
Some 5.6 million Syrian refugees remain in five neighboring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq – the UN refugee agency said last month.
Key obstacles to their return include documentation, landmines, and the absence of amnesties for people who deserted the army, it said.