Ashton Meets Miqati after Arriving in Beirut for Talks on Syrian Refugees

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati upon her arrival in Beirut Monday for talks with senior Lebanese officials.

Discussions at Miqati's Beirut residence focused on “the current situations in Lebanon and the region and ties with the European Union,” the premier's office said.

The meeting was followed by a dinner banquet in honor of the visiting European official.

Al-Joumhouria newspaper reported Monday that Ashton's talks will focus on several issues, including the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon and the repercussions of the Syria crisis on the country.

Syrian refugees escaping the bloodshed to Lebanon is a pressing issue on Ashton's agenda, the daily said, amid talks on preparations made by the European Union to collect financial donations to the Lebanese state to help it cope with the burden of displaced Syrians.

Regional and international issues, notably those related to the Syrian crisis and its repercussions on Lebanon and neighboring countries, will also be discussed.

Ashton is said to announce a new figure of European aid to Lebanon and neighboring countries, taking into consideration the probability of an upsurge in refugees following the escalating confrontations in Syria that could even grow stronger in the next three months.

Ashton will hold meetings with President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, Miqati and Premier-designate Tammam Salam, the daily added.

Local Lebanese issues and means of cooperation between the European Union and Lebanon at various levels are also on Ashton's agenda.

She will meet with 27 ambassadors of the EU in Lebanon and heads of missions and bodies of the Union.

The United Nations Higher Council for Refugees said Sunday that the number of Syrians who fled their war-torn country to Lebanon has exceeded 530,000 after an increase of 19,000 in a week.

In its latest report on Syrian refugees, the U.N. agency said more than 455,000 Syrian refugees have registered with U.N. offices in Lebanon while over 75,000 others are waiting for their registration process to complete.

The registered refugees are benefiting from aid provided by the U.N., the Lebanese government and various non-governmental aid agencies, according to the report.

Lebanon has called on the international community to help bear its burden of hosting the Syrian refugees, who are expected to exceed 1 million by the end of the year.

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