Lebanon may be forced to work with Syria on refugee issue: Aoun

Lebanon is home to the world’s largest per capita population of Syrian refugees, with around 1.1 million. The refugee crisis has worsened since 2011. (AP)
Updated 04 May 2019
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Lebanon may be forced to work with Syria on refugee issue: Aoun

  • Our goal is to resettle a million refugees during the next 10 years, says UNHCR official

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun told Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell on Friday that Lebanon is hoping the EU will change its stance over the return of Syrian refugees “to avoid repercussions for Lebanon.” Aoun warned Borrell that Europe’s current stance “will force us to take steps to organize this return with the Syrian government.”

In a meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on the same day, Aoun said that Syrian refugees “face political incitement and exploitation because they have not returned to their country, which raises questions about the reasons.”

On Thursday, Volker Türk, the assistant high commissioner for protection at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), announced in a talk at the American University of Beirut (AUB) that the UNHCR’s goal during the next 10 years is to resettle a million refugees around the world in other countries.

“We want to encourage countries to host refugees,” he said. “This number does not only include Syrian refugees, because the refugee crisis has worsened since 2011, due to conflicts that have erupted around the world.”

Türk said that there are more than 6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Syria and more than 10 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. “The peak of this displacement was when Syrian refugees suddenly flocked to Europe, and European countries did not have the mechanisms in place to deal with this matter,” he said. There are 1.1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to the UNHCR.

Türk flew to Beirut after a visit to Syria, during which he held meetings with Syrian officials and discussed the issue of Syrian refugees. “The discussion with the Syrian side was forthright, and they conveyed a clear message that they want to work with us (to assist) Syrian refugees who wish to return,” he told Arab News.

Arab News learned that, during his visit, Türk met an assistant to Syria’s deputy foreign minister, but did not meet with any senior officials from the Syrian government.

Türk said that he and his accompanying delegation visited the Zabadani district, much of which has been destroyed by the Syrian conflict. He said that he focused during his meetings with IDPs who have returned to their homes “on the quality of life they lead as well as their needs.”

Türk believes that the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2018 by a large majority to improve the way the crisis is managed at an international level “(will) keep the asylum issue in the international community’s mind in a sustainable manner instead of addressing it occasionally.”

Türk emphasized that the importance of the GCR is that it includes an item on the protection of refugees who cannot return to their countries, notes the situation of refugees living below the poverty line, and makes clear to the international community that it has a responsibility to deal with the consequences of these crises and to find solutions to them.

The GCR — which is not binding — was ratified by 181 countries. America and Hungary voted against it, and the Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya abstained.

The compact contains four main objectives: Taking pressure off host countries; promoting the self-reliance of refugees; broadening access to third-country solutions; and contributing to securing the necessary conditions for the refugees’ safe and dignified return to their countries of origin.

The GCR also includes a paragraph on the adoption of the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which focuses on the protection of people who are forced to flee their countries and on supporting the countries that host them.

During the AUB session, there was a lively discussion about the extent to which countries can be pressured to resettle refugees. Türk was also confronted by skepticism about the resettlement of refugees — with some suggesting that they should be have to remain in the first host country they enter.

Tarek Mitri, former Lebanese minister and director of the Issam Fares Institute, which organized the session, said: “Lebanese society is divided between demands for the immediate repatriation of refugees and support for their voluntary and safe return; thus, this society is in fear. The most important question is whether the Syrian regime wants the refugees to return at a time when it is immersed in engineering a new demography in Syria. And what has become of the Russian initiative to facilitate the return of refugees? Its owners are now saying during private meetings that it has become so difficult to implement. They have even admitted that pressure from the Syrian regime has stopped the initiative, and that this has nothing to do with securing finance for the reconstruction of Syria.”

Türk stressed that it is important for Syrian refugees to obtain birth and citizenship documents, adding that this is a right for all refugees as per international conventions.

However, while he insisted on that refugees who wish to return home must be allowed to do so, he did not offer any assurance that the Syrian authorities are willing to receive them.

“Those who know refugees who wish to return can inform our offices in Lebanon and we will see what can be done,” he said.


Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

  • “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations”

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, on Monday threatened to withdraw his support for the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi if the prime minister fails to finalize the formation of his Cabinet within 10 days.
Al-Sadr is one of the most influential clerics in the country, with millions of followers, a large armed faction and a parliamentary bloc. He is the official sponsor of the Reform Alliance, the second-largest parliamentary coalition, which is overseeing the formation of the government following the national parliamentary elections in May last year. The removal of his support for Abdul Mahdi’s government might take the form of an announcement that he no longer has confidence in the Parliament, or the organization of mass demonstrations.
Abdul Mahdi, who became prime minister in October, formed his government with the support of Reform and the pro-Iranian Construction coalition. The latter is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions. However, disputes between the two alliances over some of the candidates erupted at the last minute, as a result of which four ministries remain vacant: Interior, defense, education and justice.

Monday’s statement, which was signed by Al-Sadr and described as his “last call,” was addressed to his Saeiroon parliamentary bloc, the leaders of all political blocs, and Abdul Mahdi. It was issued in response to criticism on social on Monday because of the vote by members of the parliamentary blocs, including Al-Sadr’s MPs, the day before to grant all the privileges enjoyed by the former MPs to the deputies who ruled out by the Federal Supreme Court due to the error of counting their votes.
“All the political blocs must authorize the prime minister to complete his ministerial Cabinet within 10 days…and he (Abdul Mahdi) must choose (the ministers) according to the standards of integrity, efficiency and specialization, or I will not support him,” Al-Sadr’s statement read.

His position is the latest in a series of events that have put pressure on Abdul Mahdi in recent weeks. These include efforts by some political blocs, including Saeiroon, to dismiss a number of ministers under the pretext of failure to improve services and inability to combat the financial and administrative corruption that is rampant in their departments.
While most political leaders believe that reaching a political agreement on candidates to fill the vacant ministries within 10 days “will be very difficult” and predict “this may be the end of the government of Abdul Mahdi,” some believe that Al-Sadr’s goal is to pile more pressure on Abdul Mahdi as a way to obtain certain concessions.

“Saeiroon is still negotiating with the prime minister and the other political partners to obtain some key government posts that its rivals are looking to get, and Abdul Mahdi refused to give them to the Saeiroon candidates, so this could be a part of this,” said a prominent Shiite negotiator who asked not to be named. “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations."