Hariri, Merkel Agree on 'Safe' Return of Syrian Refugees

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Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri stressed Friday that “the sustainable and only solution” for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is their “safe” return to their country.

“The sustainable and only solution for Syrian refugees is their return to Syria in safety and dignity,” Hariri said at a joint press conference in Beirut with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Chancellor Merkel's visit to Lebanon at this critical time is evidence of the importance that Germany gives to Lebanon's political and economic stability. The visit is also an occasion to consolidate the historic ties between our countries,” the PM-designate added.

He said he emphasized to Merkel “Lebanon's commitment to U.N. resolution 1701 and thanked her for Germany's contribution to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).”

“I also thanked her for Germany's support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that is looking into the crime of the assassination of martyr premier Rafik Hariri and his companions,” Hariri added.

He said he discussed with Merkel the role that Germany could play to help Lebanon implement the priorities raise by the Lebanese government at the Brussels II conference, through “backing the plan for alleviating poverty in Lebanon and supporting the strategic national framework for technical and vocational education and training.”

Hariri also told Merkel that Lebanon's government is “committed to all the reforms that were recommended at the CEDRE conference,” adding that it is important for the international community to lay out a follow-up mechanism.

“I thank Chancellor Merkel for the major support that Germany is offering Lebanon, especially in terms of the humanitarian aid that is aimed at easing the repercussions of the Syrian refugee crisis. In this regard, there is a need to expand the basic humanitarian assistance in a continued manner so that it includes the host communities,” the PM-designate went on to say.

Merkel for her part noted that the CEDRE conference provides a good groundwork for cooperation.

“Our aim is to boost economic ties between Lebanon and Germany,” she added, describing Lebanon as a “good launchpad for activities in the region.”

“Germany is committed to helping and assisting Lebanon,” the Chancellor pledged, noting that her country “wants to contribute to reaching a political solution in Syria to secure the return of refugees.”

Acknowledging that Lebanon is “facing difficult circumstances,” Merkel described the country as “a model for the world about the coexistence of religions.”

“The refugees will return when the circumstances are appropriate for such a return,” the German leader reassured, revealing that she told Lebanese officials that “the solution is to coordinate with international organizations in order to reach an agreement.”

Merkel also held talks Friday with President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri.

The National News Agency said Berri discussed with Merkel "the dire and pressing economic situation in Lebanon that has resulted from the situations in Syria and the burden of the Syrian refugee influx on Lebanon and the Lebanese."

He also called for "raising the level of coordination between the Lebanese and Syrian governments to address this issue."

An official statement was not issued after Merkel's meeting with Aoun but TV networks quoted the president as telling the German leader that Lebanon "cannot await a political solution in Syria to return the refugees."

"The experience with the Palestinian refugees is still present before our eyes," Aoun reportedly told Merkel.

Merkel had held talks with Hariri on Thursday, on the second leg of a Middle East trip that comes amid an acrimonious debate in Germany over refugee policy.

Hariri's office said they discussed the latest developments in Lebanon and the region.

Before Lebanon, Merkel was in Jordan, where she met King Abdullah II. The pair of small countries have the world's two highest numbers of refugees per capita.

With anti-immigrant sentiment spreading across Europe, Merkel has been criticized by hardliners in her own governing coalition for allowing more than one million asylum seekers into Germany in 2015.

Many of them were from Syria, whose seven-year-old conflict is also responsible for the massive influx of refugees to Jordan and Lebanon.

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