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Despite U.S., Lebanon Support UNHCR Chief Opposes Syria Safe Zones | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian refugee children (CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

The head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday that safe zones would not work inside Syria for people fleeing the country’s nearly six-year-old war.

On the other hand, United States President Donald Trump said last week he would “absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for refugees escaping violence. According to a document seen by Reuters, Trump is expected to order the Pentagon and the State Department to craft a plan for the safe zones, a move that could ratchet up U.S. military involvement in Syria.

Trump also signed an executive order last week that halted refugee arrivals for four months, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and temporarily banned citizens from seven mainly Muslim countries, including Syria.

In a meeting with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Friday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said earlier that world powers must direct good effort into establishing safe zones in Syria so refugees can return to their country.

“Frankly, I don’t see in Syria the conditions” to create successful safe zones,Grandi said at a news conference in Beirut.

At least a million Syrians have fled since 2011 into Lebanon, which has an estimated total population of less than six million.

The U.N. refugee chief, who had just completed a visit to Syria, said his agency had not been approached about the plans and there were no details on what would constitute a safe zone or how it would be enforced.

The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people, made more than half of Syrians homeless and created the world’s worst refugee crisis.

The UNHCR estimates that around 20,000 refugees worldwide would be affected by the hold on the U.S. resettlement program, Grandi said.