Displaced Minister, Issam Sharaf El-Din, asserted that it is “Totally unacceptable that the displaced Syrians do not return to Syria after the war ended and it became safe”.
Minister Sharaf El-Din indicated that the Syrian government is extending its hand to cooperate in this file, pointing out that the Lebanese state’s plan is based on the return of 15,000 displaced people per month.
Minister Sharaf El-Din also discussed proposals submitted by Lebanon to the regional director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Iaki Ito, who promised to review his reference and return to answer, and about a plan to form a tripartite committee with the Syrian state and the UNHCR, and a four-way committee with Turkey, Iraq and Jordan to achieve this return.
Minister Sharaf El-Din’s words came after meeting President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, today at Baabda Palace.
Sharaf El-Din was accompanied by Dr. Paul Morcos.
President Aoun was briefed on the meeting he held with the Regional Director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on the issue of the return of displaced Syrians.
After the meeting, Minister Sharaf El-Din made the following statement:
“I visited the President and we deliberated the file of the displaced Syrians and their return to their country.
I briefed the President on relations, contacts and on-going talks with the relevant bodies. We are in contact with the Syrian side and the Syrian state extends its hand to cooperate to facilitate this return, so that it is a dignified and safe return.
I held meetings with UN bodies represented by the Commissioner for Refugees. He presented several items and there was an understanding, a request and a wish for the Syrian state in order to establish a joint tripartite committee from the Syrian state, the Lebanese state and the UNHCR.
If this tripartite committee is established, we will have gone a long way to discuss the security details later on during the return period requested by the commissioner. We proposed that the displaced receive material and in-kind assistance in Syria, but unfortunately this matter did not succeed, and I had expected that if the answer is negative, we had another idea based on that as long as the return will be phased on the basis of every month, according to the program prepared by the Ministry in cooperation with the Committee for the Return of the Displaced and the Ministry of Social Affairs, so we asked the Commission that when it is the turn of the 15,000 displaced people who must return Every month, the aid is suspended for them, because paying aid to them in Lebanon is, unfortunately, an incentive for them to stay in Lebanon. The Commissioner promised Mr. Iaki to answer this proposal in addition to other proposals with which he will review his reference to return to us with a written report.
As for the other parties, a meeting was held with the Turkish ambassador, who was very understanding and cooperative, and he is serious. We agreed to put the humanitarian side in mind and keep the political side away from this issue.
As for them, they have the idea of creating a buffer place to which the displaced people will be returned. This is a political issue that has nothing to do with us, but we agreed to form a quartet committee from the Turkish state, which hosts 3.7 million displaced people, and Lebanon, which hosts 1,500,000 displaced persons, and Iraq, which hosts 170,000 displaced people, and Jordan, which hosts 670,000, so that there will be a unified claim with the UN agencies to facilitate the return of the displaced and have a humanitarian character.
Today, a meeting will be held with the Jordanian ambassador on this issue, and a meeting will be held on Thursday or Friday with the Iraqi ambassador, God willing”.
Questions & Answers:
Question: If some of the displaced refuse to return, does the Lebanese state have any mechanism or possibility to force them to do so?
Answer: “The war in Syria has ended and the country has become safe, and it is totally unacceptable that the displaced not return. Mr. Iaki Ito raised the subject of the opposition, and we answered that the main major issue is the issue of the displaced. As for the other small issues that you talk about, they have to do with the opposition, and they have two options: either they submit a letter of pledge to the Syrian state that they will not engage in any negative action in Syrian territory, or the issue is bearingresponsibility to deport them to a third country.
This issue has been taken into account. In the current year, we were able to obtain immigrant visas for nine thousand displaced people, five thousand who left Lebanon and the other four thousand are on the way. We assured that nine thousand out of one and a half million displaced is “nothing.” Rather, the number should be doubled, and the choice is yours. As for those who do not want to return, why not? There are laws that Professor Paul Morcos talks about, and tomorrow we have a meeting as the Committee for the Return of the Displaced. The Director General of General Security and the seven concerned ministers will attend, and we will talk in more details”.
Asked if there is a specific time period for the return of the displaced, the Displaced Ministerreplied: “The Syrian state, based on the statistics conducted by the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior, is taking a village or a suburb. On the basis of that, the deportation is carried out so that the displaced return and the place of shelter isready, and all the return receipts from roads, schools, hospitals, infrastructure and sanitation. Therefore, one and a half million displaced people cannot be returned at once. We have said an average of 15,000 displaced people per month, and it is considered good”.
About what the Prime Minister meant when he spoke about returning the displaced by law, Minister Sharaf El Din said “He meant that we, as a committee, met and instructed the Minister of the Interior to draft a law that he would submit to Parliament and stipulate that any displaced Syrian should have a leave of absence and a residence card. But when we talk about international law, I leave it to Professor Paul. He talks about the two laws 1951, which Lebanon did not sign, and 1962, but this has an international character and custom that applies to the refugee. The refugee is the one who has a political problem, but the displaced person is the one who fled from fear and has no problem and must return”.
Chairman of the EU Election Observation Committee:
President Aoun met the Chairman of the European Union Election Observation Committee, Mr. Giorgi Holvini, and the members of the Committee, the European Union Ambassador to Lebanon, Mr. Ralph Tarraf, and the political official in the mission in Lebanon, Hanna Safrin.
Mr. Holvini handed President Aoun the final report of the mission on the parliamentary elections and its recommendations, noting that the mission had completed its work and prepared the report based on the facts that the mission’s members were briefed on.
Mr. Holvini also thanked the President for the support he provided for the work of the Monitoring Committee and the cooperation they received from the various representatives of the Lebanese authorities. Moreover, Mr. Holvini pointed out that the report is more than 120 pages long and includes 23 different recommendations that form a basis for cooperation in the future to complete the elections in more favourableconditions.
Holvini concluded that the recommendations suggest making amendments to some of the necessary electoral procedures and measures.
For his part, President Aoun thanked Mr. Holvini and the members of the European Union Election Monitoring Committee for their efforts in monitoring the electoral process, noting that he had reviewed the summary of the report, which conveyed a realistic picture of the election process and some of the practices that took place in it, especially the use of electoral money that spoils the results.
The President said that the contents of the report will be the subject of interest and follow-up by the authorities concerned with the electoral processes in the future.
President Aoun received a member of the Central Committee of the “Fatah” movement and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mr. Azzam al-Ahmad.
Al-Ahmad was accompanied by the Ambassador of Palestine to Lebanon Ashraf Dabour, and the Secretary of the “Fatah” movement and the factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mr. Fathi Abu al-Arada.
Mr. Al-Ahmad conveyed the greetings of the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, and his wishes for the Lebanese people. Al-Ahmad also thanked the President for his positions of solidarity with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause, and congratulated him on the achievement of the parliamentary elections, expressing his confidence in Lebanon’s ability to overcome its crises and return to playing its distinguished role in its surroundings and the world.
Latest developments related to the Palestinian issue and what is expected in the coming weekswere discussed, especially the visit of US President, Joe Biden to the Middle East region, which includes Palestine.
For his part, President Aoun conveyed Mr. Ahmed his greetings to President Abbas and his wishes that the Palestinian people achieve what they aspire to.