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Aoun condemns 'suspicious international efforts' to keep Syrian refugees in Lebanon

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Syrian refugee families walk back into a refugee camp in the town of Bar Elias, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, on July 7, 2022. (Photo by AP)

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has denounced “suspicious” international efforts to keep Syrian refugees in Lebanon, stating that the Beirut government will power through with its plan to begin repatriating tens of thousands of Syrian nationals living in the country back to Syria.

Aoun made the comments during a Thursday meeting with a Canadian delegation that included Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan, according to a statement from the Lebanese presidency.

“Some countries’ efforts to integrate the displaced Syrians who are in Lebanon into the Lebanese society are a crime that Lebanon will not accept, no matter the cost,” Aoun said.

“We are now suspicious of the positions taken by some countries and organizations,” the Lebanese president said, adding that “if the goal is to settle the displaced Syrians in Lebanon, we reject that outright, just as we previously refused to settle the Palestinians on our land.”

The Canadian minister indicated that his country supported the return of the displaced Syrians to their home country.

Last month, the head of Lebanon's General Security agency lambasted the international community over forgetting about Syrian refugees, arguing there is no firm intention to repatriate the displaced population to their homeland.

Major General Abbas Ibrahim said on July 14 that the Lebanese government, having received guarantees from Syrian authorities, drafted a plan that would entail sending back 15,000 Syrian refugees every month, but it was rejected due to the lack of international will for the repatriation of thousands of Syrian refugees in near future.

“We and Syrian people are victims of a major international conspiracy led by superpowers, which has displaced an entire nation,” he added.

Earlier, Lebanon's caretaker Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine told The Associated Press that Beirut “will follow the plan to return Syrians refugees to their country.” 

The plan “projects 15,000 monthly repatriations. We are serious about implementing this plan and we hope to do so within months,” he said.

“This is a humane, honorable, patriotic and economic plan that is necessary for Lebanon” Charafeddine noted, pointing out that “shelters are to be established for the displaced within their villages in Syria.”

The Lebanese minister went on to say that the Syrian government has shown great support in this regard.

According to the Lebanese government, about 1.5 million Syrian refugees are living in the country.

A committee consisting of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Charafeddine, six other ministers and the country’s General Security agency has been working on the plan since March to gradually return Syrian refugees from Lebanon.

The United Nations estimates that 90 percent of Syrian refugee households live in extreme poverty.

Since late 2019, Lebanon has been mired in a deep financial crisis that has caused the Lebanese pound to lose around 90 percent of its value to the US dollar and led its banking system to collapse, plunging the bulk of Lebanese into poverty.

The economic and financial crisis is mostly linked to the sanctions that the United States and its allies have imposed on Lebanon and foreign intervention in the Arab nation’s domestic affairs.

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