Lebanon to rehash refugee aid plan at Brussels conference

Lebanon asks for $1 billion to help the Syrian refugees on its territory. (AFP)
Updated 11 March 2019

Lebanon to rehash refugee aid plan at Brussels conference

  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon, even those with an official residence, are experiencing discrimination amid political divisions surrounding their return

BEIRUT: At a conference in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday, Lebanon will present the same plan it presented two years ago to alleviate its refugee burden.
The plan aims to help 1.5 million Lebanese, 1.5 million Syrian refugees and more than 208,000 Palestinian refugees.
“After eight years of war, Syrian refugees have become increasingly exhausted, and 70 percent of them are in poverty,” Nasser Yassin, director of research at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, told Arab News.
“This conference comes at a time of political clashes in Lebanon between a party that wants a rapid return of the refugees, and a party that insists on respecting refugee rights and the right to a safe return.”
Lebanese authorities are concerned by “a trend among European donor countries of merging funds allocated to Lebanon for the refugee crisis and those pledged … to support Lebanon,” Yassin said.
Nadim Munla, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s adviser on refugees, said the country “can no longer bear the burden of the crisis. It’s no longer a humanitarian crisis. It’s now threatening Lebanon’s growth and stability.”
Hariri had previously said: “In view of the increasing talk about refugees’ return, it’s dangerous to consider that it actually happened or will happen very soon, and thus overlook the increasing needs of Syrian refugees and host communities in Lebanon.”
Joelle Bassoul, the representative in Lebanon of Save the Children, said the country “is asking for $1.2 billion to assist host communities, $1 billion to help Syrian refugees on its territory, in addition to assisting Palestinian refugees in light of the decline in UNRWA’s (the UN Relief and Works Agency) contributions.”
She added that “93 percent of Syrian refugees (in Lebanon) are living in cities, which means they’re paying expenses without receiving any help.”
She said: “A total of 1 million births (among Syrian refugees) were registered in host countries since the start of the crisis, including 178,000 in Lebanon.”
George Ghali, executive director of the ALEF human rights organization in Lebanon, said: “The resettlement program for Syrian refugees in Western countries lost some momentum in recent years … This clearly reflects the international community’s attempt to evade its responsibilities toward host countries.”
Syrian refugees in Lebanon, even those with an official residence, are experiencing discrimination amid political divisions surrounding their return.
This situation is mainly reflected through the closure of Syrian-owned shops, and arrests of Syrians for lacking an official residency or other documents.
Some Syrian refugees say they have been offered tourist visas to France, where — they have been told — they can request asylum, in exchange for them selling their land and property in Syria.
Some have accepted the offer, and have been transported in containers from the port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon.
“The Syrian regime’s allies and the international community must pressure it to facilitate the return process through a number of measures to reflect its good intentions,” said Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs Richard Kouyoumjian.
He added that “90 percent of the refugees in Lebanon want to go back. We’d agreed on technical coordination with Syria to facilitate the journey of those wishing to return.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said: “The refugees need to be assured that they’ll have a safe, secure and decent return. They’ve voiced concerns about five main areas, including safety, housing, access to services, legal issues and job opportunities.”
He added: “The commission is working in Syria to remove obstacles hampering refugees’ return, through a number of measures such as reconstructing schools and providing basic humanitarian assistance to allow reintegration.”
Grandi said: “The return has to be progressive, and the Syrian government has a significant role in ensuring suitable conditions.” He added that “165,000 refugees have already returned to their country.”

Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

Updated 26 May 2019

Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

  • Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias
  • Among these are the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen

JEDDAH: Iran needs to dismantle its proxies and end its interventions in Arab affairs before seeking to normalize relations with its Gulf neighbors, a political expert told Arab News on Sunday.

“The Gulf countries have been calling for normal relations with their neighbors for years, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears on the Iranian side,” Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, said.

Accusing Tehran of “playing games,” Al-Shehri described Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s suggestion that Iran wanted to improve relations with its Gulf neighbors as worthless “as long as it continues meddling in the affairs of other countries, and fails to halt its evil militias from sabotaging and destabilizing regional security.”

Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias, which indirectly supports, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. 

Zarif, who is on a two-day visit to Iraq, told a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Al-Hakim that Iran wants to build balanced relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.

However, Al-Shehri said that Tehran needs to address three key issues — its nuclear program; its terrorist militias, which have been spreading chaos in the Gulf region and beyond; and its ballistic missile program — before making any such proposals.

“The question is, would Iran be ready to give up all three files? If they want their neighbors to accept them and normalize relations with them, they have to be honest and stop playing games,” he said.

Al-Shehri described Zarif’s regional tour as an attempt to rally support and send a false message that Iran has friends and allies who would stand by them in their crisis with the US.

“Where were these countries when Iran’s terrorist proxies in Yemen, the Houthi militias, launched missiles and drones attacking the holiest Islamic site in Makkah and other Saudi facilities?” Al-Shehri asked.

Zarif said Iran will defend itself against any military or economic aggression, calling on European states to do more to preserve a nuclear agreement his country signed.

“We will defend (ourselves) against any war efforts, whether it be an economic war or a military one, and we will face these efforts with strength,” he said.

Strains have increased between Iran and the US following this month’s sabotage attack on oil tankers in the Gulf. Washington and other regional allies have concluded that Iran is most likely behind the attacks. 

Tehran has distanced itself from the bombings, but the US has sent an aircraft carrier and extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf, sparking concerns over the risk of conflict in the volatile region.