Lebanon sees eastern EU refugee hardline as model to follow


Prague (AFP)

Lebanon said on Wednesday it wanted to follow the example of eastern EU states that have largely rejected refuging its own refugee crisis as a way of resolvs.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil sympathised with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia's refusal to accept refugee distribution quotas proposed by the EU in the wake of the 2015-16 migrant crisis, when more than a million people streamed into Europe, mostly from war-torn Syria.

Populist eastern EU leaders including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Poland's powerbroker Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Czech President Milos Zeman, among others, blasted German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open door" policy on accepting migrants during that period.

These countries "were acting in their national interest and decided that the redistribution of refugees among European countries is not in their national interest, although they faced EU sanctions for that," Bassil told reporters in Prague.

"I would like this attitude to be an inspiration for Lebanon, because every state must make national interests its top priority and at this moment Lebanon's key national interest is the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland," he added.

Lebanon says it is hosting 1.5 million Syrians -- around a quarter of its own population. Less than one million of them are registered with UN refugee agency the UNHCR.

Most of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in insecurity and depend on international aid.

The International Monetary Fund has said their presence has led to increased unemployment and a rise in poverty due to greater competition for jobs.

The influx has also put strain on Lebanese water and electrical infrastructure.

Lebanese government officials and politicians have ramped up calls for Syrians to return home, but the United Nations has consistently warned that conditions in the war-ravaged country are not suitable for such returns.

"I would like Prague or Beirut to host a meeting, an initiative of countries seeking to plan and ensure the return of Syrian refugees to their country," said Bassil.

"This would be immensely useful for both Lebanon and Syria and in general it would be the best solution to the human, humanitarian and political crisis we have right now and which could get worse in the future," he said.