Parliament discusses refugees, Mikati says $1B 'continuation of previous aid'


Parliament convened Wednesday to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis and the latest controversial EU aid package, with lawmakers from the entire political spectrum ramping up anti-refugee sentiment and calling for more refugee returns and crackdowns.

“Lebanon’s fate hinges on this session,” Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri warned at the beginning of the session.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati for his part said that “resolving the Syrian refugee crisis requires full consensus among the Lebanese,” noting that the $1 billion EU aid package is “unconditional” and that “no agreement has been signed with the EU regarding it.”

“It is rather a continuation of the previous aid program and we have insisted that the assistance offered to the displaced Syrians should be aimed at encouraging them to return to their country and not to stay in Lebanon, emphasizing that the biggest part of Syria has become safe for their return,” Mikati explained.

MP Georges Adwan of the Lebanese Forces meanwhile called on the government to “immediately start deporting every illegal Syrian resident,” noting that “those who want to help the Syrian people should help them in Syria, not in Lebanon.”

Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Jebran Bassil for his part warned that the European aid package is aimed at “keeping the refugees in Lebanon and preventing them from going to Europe.”

Bassil also said that the Lebanese government should coordinate with its Syrian counterpart in the file and that the Lebanese measures should be governed by the law and by “respect for human dignity.”

Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel meanwhile argued that “there is no war in Syria and most areas have become safe,” while hitting out at Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah over his latest suggestion as to “opening the seas” to the refugees who want to go to Europe.

“Before we think how to open the seas and create a problem with world countries, why don’t we think of land transportation, which is easier for transferring illegal Syrians through the border?” Gemayel asked.

He also said that “80% of the Syrian presence problem in Lebanon would be resolved if we control the border and deport the Syrians who have violated the laws.”

The European Union this month announced an aid package worth 1 billion euros — about $1.06 billion — of which about 200 million euros would go to security and border control, in an apparent bid to curb migration from Lebanon to Cyprus, Italy, and other parts of Europe.

While Mikati welcomed the aid, other officials described it as a bribe for tiny Lebanon to keep the refugees.

A country of about 6 million people, Lebanon hosts nearly 780,000 registered Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands who are unregistered — the world’s highest refugee population per capita.

Lebanese officials have long urged the international community to either resettle the refugees in other countries or help them return to Syria. Over the past months, leading Lebanese political parties have become increasingly vocal, demanding that Syrian refugees go back.

Lebanese security forces this year stepped up deportations of Syrians, although nowhere near the level threatened two years ago when the Lebanese government announced a plan to deport some 15,000 Syrians every month, to what they dubbed “safe areas,” in cooperation with the government in Damascus.

Many increasingly impoverished Lebanese have accused Syrian refugees of benefiting from humanitarian aid while beating Lebanese to jobs by accepting lower pay.

Lebanon’s ruling political parties and leadership claim that most Syrians living in the tiny Mediterranean country are economic migrants rather than refugees escaping the war at home, now in its 13th year.

Lebanese security agents have in the past weeks raided shops and other businesses employing undocumented Syrian workers, and shut them down.

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