BEIRUT: Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has urged the international community to cooperate to help end the Syrian refugee crisis as parliament failed for the eighth time to elect a new president, further exacerbating his country’s political and economic strife.
Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri has scheduled the ninth election session for next Thursday.
Mikati met the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Thursday, and said: “The UN Human Rights Office and other relevant international organizations must coordinate with the Lebanese government through its competent bodies to solve this dilemma.
“This issue puts more pressure on Lebanon, since the country no longer has the financial, service and political capacity to bear the repercussions.
“The priority at this stage is to return the Syrian refugees successfully to their country after the situation there stabilizes.”
The delegation that accompanied Grandi on his visit to Beirut included UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Lebanon Ayaki Ito and UN Deputy Special Coordinator in Lebanon Imran Riza.
It is estimated there are about 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, about 880,000 of whom are registered with the UNHCR. Some 400,000 are workers.
Lebanon had aimed to deport 15,000 Syrian refugees per month, but lists were not approved, some families backed out of returning through fear, and international organizations warned of the forced return of refugees before security was established in Syria.
Mikati warned about two months ago that Lebanon could “take an undesirable position for Western countries by expelling Syrian refugees through legal means, if the international community does not cooperate.”
Grandi stressed the enormous challenges facing Lebanon following his meeting with Mikati.
He said: “Hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrians and other refugees is a very stressful responsibility for the country.
“We discussed future prospects, and I expressed to him (Mikati) that the UN will continue its support, including humanitarian support for the Lebanese people and everyone living in the country.
“The OHCHR is responsible for the refugees, and we continue to mobilize international resources for them and for those who want to return to Syria.”
Grandi praised Lebanon’s support for the voluntary return of refugees.
He said: “We are working with the Syrian regime to remove the serious obstacles that have accumulated over the years that prevent people from returning.
“We have made some progress, but there is still more work for people to be confident in making the decision to return.
“There are many challenges in Syria as well, and I have always referred to the Security Council resolution, which stipulated the need for early recovery in Syria, and we must work with donors in this regard.”
Lebanese MPs failed to elect a new president on Thursday, despite 111 out of 128 attending the eighth election session.
MP Michel Moawad received 37 votes, while 52 blanks were cast by Hezbollah and its allies.
The MPs of Hezbollah and its allies left the voting hall as the second round lost its quorum.
Moawad said: “I do not reject dialogue and extend my hand to all parties to work together under the umbrella of the constitution.
“A president who forms an extension of the existing approach, or the so-called gray president who softens the edges, will deepen the collapse.”