Bou Habib: West, Syria rejecting refugee return, Lebanon mulling alternatives
Caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib has said that both the West and Damascus are rejecting the return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon to the war-torn country.
Bou Habib, who is currently in Washington, spoke to al-Joumhouria newspaper about the steps that a ministerial committee will make to communicate with Syria over the return of the refugees. In addition to Bou Habib, the committee comprises General Security acting chief Maj. Gen. Elias Bayssari and Higher Defense Council chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Mustafa.
“During my presence in New York, I met with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and Syria’s envoy to the U.N. Bassam Sabbagh, who will become deputy foreign minister, and I agreed with the minister that I will visit Damascus after my return from the United States,” Bou Habib told the daily.
He however noted that “the official Syrian stance is known and was declared by President Bashar al-Assad in an interview with Sky News.”
“He informed us of it when we visited Damascus to offer condolences over the victims of the earthquake. The Syrian stance says, ‘We’re ready to receive the refugees and solve their problems, but how will they return while the U.N. is offering them financial, health, educational and food support in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other nations?’” Bou Habib added.
“Most importantly, how will they return to their destroyed villages while there is no possibility to rebuild them without Arab and international support that is currently unavailable?” the minister quoted Syrian officials as saying.
Asked about the outcome of his meetings in New York, Bou Habib said: “The U.N. is still considering the situation in Syria to be unsafe and it is paying them (refugees) money where they are. If they return and the U.N. pays them in Syria, they will be able to rebuild their homes and villages, but the international stance is opposed to the refugee return and they will not pay them if they return, so the refugees prefer to stay where they are.”
“The root of the problem is political, not only financial, and Lebanon’s envoy to the U.N. Ambassador Hadi Hashem, who recently appointed, took part last week in a meeting of the subcommittee on the situation in Syria and sent us a report saying that the countries’ stances on the Syrian crisis are still the same,” Bou Habib added.
As for the alternatives that Lebanon and Syria might resort to, the minister said: “We will mull the alternatives and there is a specialized team at the Foreign Ministry that is devising proposals which we will discuss during the Damascus visit upon my return, and we will listen to the alternative Syrian proposals.”