Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has called for international help to secure the safe return of Syrian refugees, saying that the Mediterranean state can no longer afford to host them.
Speaking during a virtual address for the UN’s 75th anniversary yesterday, the president explained: “We call on the world to help us secure the safe return of displaced Syrians because Lebanon is groaning from the brunt of unprecedented crises rendering it incapable to further host the largest number of refugees per capita.”
In recent years, Lebanese officials have pressured Syrians to leave the country.
Activists and the United Nations (UN), however, have frequently warned conditions in neighbouring Syria are not suitable for refugees to return.
Lebanon plays host to nearly two million refugees, including at least 1.5 million from Syria, most of whom live in informal settlements rather than official refugee camps or communities.
In recent weeks, tens of Syrians, alongside dozens of Lebanese have tried to migrate from the crisis-ridden country by attempting the dangerous sea passage to Cyprus.
Several migrants have died on overcrowded dinghies while attempting the crossing and earlier this week four bodies, including one Syrian man and a child, were retrieved from the water.
The bodies are believed to be from a boat which UN peacekeepers discovered in trouble in international waters off the coast of Lebanon last week.
The boat, which survivors said had been adrift in the Mediterranean for at least a week, was returned to Beirut.
Failure and potential death has not deterred would-be migrants, however, and according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, the number of attempted crossings is rising.
Data collected by UNHCR shows that, in a recent 16-day period, more attempts have been made to get from Lebanon to Cyprus than in the whole of 2019.
The sharp increase reflects growing desperation in Lebanon, which is plagued by a debilitating economic crisis, as well as rising poverty and the global coronavirus pandemic, while struggling to recover from the effects of the 4 August Beirut blast.
In yesterday’s speech, the Lebanese president praised the UN and its member states for a quick response to the explosion, which left nearly 200 dead, thousands more injured and caused widespread material damage to the city.
Aoun went on to confirm “Lebanon’s attachment to the noble principles of the United Nations and its charter” and called on the international organisation to help countries, like Lebanon, in need.