Lebanese Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil voiced on Saturday his country’s concern over a new Syrian law aimed at redeveloping areas devastated by seven years of war, saying it could impede the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.
"Law 10" of the legislation allows people to prove they own property in the areas chosen for redevelopment, and to claim compensation.
But aid groups say the chaos of war means few will be able to do so in the time specified. The law has yet to be applied and the legislation came into effect last month.
In a letter to Syrian regime FM Walid al-Muallem, Bassil said “Law 10” could make it difficult for refugees to prove property ownership, and in turn discourage some from returning.
Lebanon hosts more than a million Syrian refugees and Bassil expressed concern over the limited time frame given for refugees to prove possession of their properties.
"The inability of the refugees to practically present what proves their possession (of their properties) during the given time limit might lead to them losing their properties and their sense of national identity," Bassil said in the letter, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
"This would deprive them of one of the main incentives for their come return to Syria," he added, echoing comments earlier this week by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
Hariri said the law "tells thousands of Syrian families to stay in Lebanon" by threatening them with property confiscation.
Moreover, Bassil voiced concern that the law would pave the way for the naturalization of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
He stressed that Lebanon is “committed to its constitutional right to prevent naturalization,” reiterating that the only way to resolve the refugee crisis is for them to return to their homes, if they are located in safe areas.
He stated that Lebanon would not forcibly deport the Syrians or link their return to any issue, such as the political solution.
Bassil sent a similar letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, calling for action to protect the rights of Syrian refugees in maintaining their properties.
He urged it to assume its full responsibilities in informing all Syrians in Lebanon of the law and urge them to take the necessary measures to prove their ownership of property and return home.
Lebanon, said Bassil, faces many challenges that prevent it from informing all Syrians of the law, blaming this problem on the “negative policy” and “lack of transparency” adopted by UN agencies in failing to disclose information about refugees to the Lebanese government.