UNHCR 'refuses' plan to repatriate Syrian refugees in Lebanon, says minister

UNHCR 'refuses' plan to repatriate Syrian refugees in Lebanon, says minister
The UNHCR has rejected a Lebanese government plan to begin sending Syrian refugees back to their country, a Lebanese minister said
3 min read
11 July, 2022
Lebanon hosts about 1.5 million Syrians who have fled conflict in their home country [Getty]

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees refuses to send Syrian refugees back to their country from Lebanon, a Lebanese minister has said, in an official response to a plan announced by a cabinet minister earlier this month.

Minister of the Displaced in Lebanon’s caretaker government, Issam Charafeddine, told local television channel LBCI that a proposal given to the UNHCR to redirect financial support for Syrian refugees to Syria was rejected by the agency’s representative in Lebanon, Ayaki Ito.

Charafeddine announced last week that the government plans to start sending back 15,000 Syrian refugees every month, saying that the situation in Syria had largely improved – despite objections by the UN and rights groups.

Lebanon has one of the world's highest numbers of refugees per capita and currently hosts around 1.5 million Syrians who fled the decade-old conflict. It also hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees mostly living in 12 urban camps.

Officials say the influx has cost Lebanon billions of dollars and put further strain on its crippled infrastructure while it struggles with a financial meltdown.

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"We agreed to form a Lebanese-Syrian committee to coordinate…and designate the type of refugee, whether they are a displaced person or a political refugee," Charafeddine told LBCI.

He stressed that if the UN does not provide financial assistance to Syrians in their country then it is encouraging them to stay in Lebanon, noting that the UNHCR did not respond to a proposal to establish a tripartite Lebanese, Syrian, and UNHCR commission.

"The commission considers that their decision is temporary, until there is [better] security in Syria. We, as in Lebanon and Syria, see that there is security and there is no need for the displaced Syrians to remain in Lebanon," the minister said.

Charafeddine reiterated in his comments to the UNHCR that Lebanon – a country of about 6 million – cannot absorb the large number of Syrians in its territory, urging the UN agency to help the refugees travel to a third country or return to Syria.

"Syrian workers… must submit a visa to work in Lebanon, and those who live in camps have different situations," added the minister.

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The UNHCR and rights groups oppose involuntary repatriation to Syria and say the practice risks endangering the returning refugees.

Many refugees fear they will be forced into compulsory military service upon returning to Syria, or accused of having been part of an opposition group that the Syrian regime labels as terrorists.

While there are no official numbers, it is estimated that around half a million people were killed in the Syrian conflict, which has left much of the country in ruins.