Germany's Merkel: Syria must be more secure before refugees return

Photo showing Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri talks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon June 22, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Germany's Merkel: Syria must be more secure before refugees return

  • The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not involved in the return process and does not yet consider Syria safe enough for refugees to return.
  • Merkel: Refugee returns to Syria must be coordinated with UN.

BEIRUT: The return of Syrian refugees to their homeland can only happen in coordination with the United Nations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday during her two-day visit to Lebanon.
Refugee returns have been a hot-button issue in Lebanon, a small country that has the world’s highest number of refugees per capita.
“We want to contribute to reaching a political solution in Syria, that will allow refugees to return to Syria,” Merkel told reporters on Friday, after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“I confirmed with officials that returns can only happen in agreement and talks with UN organizations,” she added.
Around 500 refugees left southern Lebanon earlier this year for Syria in a return organized between Lebanese and Syrian authorities, and several thousand have gone back to their homeland from towns around the border in recent years.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not involved in the return process and does not yet consider Syria safe enough for refugees to return.
Lebanese officials have been increasingly calling for refugee returns with or without a political solution to Syria’s seven-year-old crisis.
Merkel said it was “understandable” that the large refugee influx had caused tensions in Lebanon but expressed hope they could be resolved.
Her comments come at a rocky time for ties between Lebanon’s government and the UNHCR.
This month, Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil ordered a halt to new residency permits for UNHCR’s foreign staff, accusing them of “intimidating the displaced who wish to return voluntarily.”
The UN has said it hopes Bassil will rescind his decision. The rest of Lebanon’s government has not officially commented.

Hariri, who has been appointed for a third term as Lebanon’s premier, said his country was still seeking refugee returns “as quickly as possible.”
“The only permanent solution for Syrian refugees is their return to Syria in a safe and dignified manner,” he told reporters.
Merkel is also due to meet Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Friday, before flying back to Germany where she faces intense pressure to curb migrant arrivals.

According to the UNHCR, more than 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011 and another 6.6 million are currently internally displaced.
The UN last week said it noted at least 920,000 displacements since the beginning of the year, the highest in that time frame in Syria’s war.
Aid groups have warned that heightened anti-refugee rhetoric and quieting battlefronts in Syria could lead government to force refugees out.


8 EU countries urge Israel to reconsider village demolition

It rebuked the Israeli High Court’s Sept. 5 decision to demolish the desert community. (AP)
Updated 21 September 2018
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8 EU countries urge Israel to reconsider village demolition

  • The eight countries are France, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany and Italy

UNITED NATIONS: Eight European Union nations are underlining their opposition to Israel’s planned demolition of the Palestinian village of Khan Al-Ahmar and are urging its government to reconsider the decision.
The statement was read by Dutch Ambassador Karel Van Oosterom outside the UN Security Council on Thursday. It rebuked the Israeli High Court’s Sept. 5 decision to demolish the desert community.
The eight countries are France, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany and Italy. They say in the statement that they “will not give up on a negotiated two-state solution with Jerusalem as a capital” of both Israel and a new Palestinian state.
That was an implicit slap at US President Donald Trump’s declaration in December that contested Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.