Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Lebanese government is considering setting up “shelters” for existing Syrian refugees as it mulls the introduction of new measures banning the entry of Syrian nationals into the tiny Mediterranean country, a senior government official told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday.
Syrian refugee shelters will be established in Lebanon under the supervision of the UN Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs Rashid Derbas told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“We are still discussing the logistical possibilities of establishing [refugee] camps,” the minister said, maintaining that a “final decision in this regard is to be made during the government session on Thursday.”
Initially the new refugee policy will be applied on a limited scale and will be extended only if it proved successful, he said.
According to the minister, the decision to adopt the policy was unanimous and has not met any opposition from any political actors in Lebanon.
Dana Sleiman, the spokesperson for the UNHCR in Lebanon, said the Ministry had not discussed the details of the proposal with the refugee agency, but indicated that the issue may be raised during its next meeting with the Lebanese authorities.
“We are willing to discuss any proposal made by the Lebanese side and we will be ready to provide necessary advice,” Sleiman said.
She maintained that meetings between the UNHCR and the Ministry of Social Affairs were held on a weekly basis to discuss the issue of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Syrian refugees registered at the UNHCR in Lebanon have exceeded 1.158 million, while Lebanese authorities estimate the overall number of Syrians resident in the country has reached 2 million.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam chaired a meeting of the Ministerial Committee he had established to work on the affairs of Syrian refugees on Tuesday. The meeting examined the recent proposal to bar more Syrians from entering the country, and the decision to strip those who return to Syria of their refugee status.
Lebanese authorities claim there are 700–900 unofficial refugee camps in the country, accommodating 17 percent of Syrians in Lebanon.
Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim, said his country opposes the establishment of Syrian refugee camps on Lebanese territories. “Syria is a large country and can accommodate all its sons,” he said.