Lebanon will coordinate refugee returns to Syria only with the United Nations and its specialized agencies, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Friday, days after a number of refugees left for Syria under an agreement brokered by “Hezbollah.”
“Recently, a debate on the return of Syrians has emerged. Here I would like to reiterate my position on this matter in very clear terms … We will only address this issue in close coordination and joint planning with the UN and its specialized agencies,” Hariri said while chairing the Second High Level Steering Committee meeting for displaced persons.
The meeting was attended by western and Arab diplomats whose countries have helped Lebanon overcome the burden of refugees. It was also attended by UN Special Coordinator to Lebanon Sigrid Kaag and the representatives of UN agencies.
“We are in support of a speedy and safe return of the Syrian displaced, however, we will, under no circumstances, force the displaced Syrians to return to Syria,” said Hariri.
Lebanese politicians are deeply divided over whether Lebanon should work directly with the Syrian regime over the return of refugees, which “Hezbollah” and its allies advocate.
Lebanon’s infrastructure and communities have been strained by hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, which make up around a quarter of the country’s population.
In a related development, President of the Syrian Coalition Riad Seif sent letters to UN chief Antonio Guterres as well as to Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Hariri to stress the need to protect the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, especially in the eastern border town of Arsal.
Seif said that the killing, arrest and physical abuse of Syrian refugees is a “disgraceful violation of human rights laws and the Lebanese law.”
He added that “these acts cannot be justified whatsoever by the fight against terrorism, our common enemy, or to preserve Lebanon’s security.”