Lebanese Interior Ministry, General Security Take Steps to Resolve Syrian Refugee Crisis

Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the interior ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP)
Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the interior ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP)
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Lebanese Interior Ministry, General Security Take Steps to Resolve Syrian Refugee Crisis

Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the interior ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP)
Lebanese caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the interior ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP)

Lebanese officials can no longer afford to lightly deal with the Syrian refugee file, especially amid rising popular and political pressure to deal with the crisis.

The Interior Ministry and General Security announced immediate practical steps to resolve the crisis that started in 2011 with the eruption of the conflict in neighboring Syria.

The refugee file was brought back to the spotlight after a Syrian gang was accused of kidnapping and killing Pascal Sleiman, Jbeil coordinator of the Lebanese Forces. Syrians are also behind a spike in crime in Lebanon.

The situation has prompted some partisan forces in some regions to take action against the refugees, such as expelling them from villages and towns and expelling Syrian students from Lebanese schools.

43% of the population

According to acting General Security chief Elias al-Baysari, some 2.1 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon or around 43 percent of Lebanon’s population.

In December, the General Security directorate received figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) showing that it has registered 1.486 million refugees, without specifying when they were registered or when they entered Lebanon.

Sources from the General Security told Asharq Al-Awsat that the UNHCR was asked to hand in new data related to the date of entry of the refugees, specifically if they had entered after 2015, which was when the Lebanese government had decided that it would no longer register more refugees.

New measures

The sources said the General Security was ready to deport 2,000 to 3,000 unregistered Syrians a day if the political authorities take a decision over the issue.

Measures have been adopted in recent weeks to organize this file and push for the refugees’ return to their homes, they added.

Among these measures are refusal to accept bank statements and draft new lease agreements that are needed to renew residency permits, and shutting stores that are creating unfair competition with Lebanese businesses.

Geagea calls for deporting violators

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said on Friday that 40 to 45 percent of Syrian refugees are living in Lebanon illegally, warning that the Syrian crisis probably needs another 13 years to be resolved.

Speaking at a press conference, he added that during that time, the number of Syrians in Lebanon could rise to 4 million and equal the number of Lebanese people.

He said the General Security was the main party to blame for the crisis, then the Internal Security Forces and army.

The crisis must be resolved according to the 1962 law that stipulates that people without residency permits must be deported. Such a move is administrative and decided by the General Security, without resorting to the judiciary, he explained.

This also negates the need for a political decision to implement the law, he went on to say.

An official source refuted Geagea’s claims, saying the law on entering and residing in Lebanon does not include the law that he mentioned.

The law also does not cover Lebanese legal texts on the direct deportation of any Arab or foreign national who violates residency regulations in Lebanon, it added.

It explained that the law referred to by Geagea calls for prosecuting the violator and awaiting a legal ruling on their deportation.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, the source said the General Security requested information from the UNHCR about who entered Lebanon before or after 2015 to determine who needs protection and who can be returned home.

Interior Ministry

It suggested that lawmakers must propose laws and amend others so that the process of returning the refugees home can be sped up, instead of making security agencies shoulder political responsibilities.

The Interior Ministry had in September issued a number of decrees to regulate the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and tasked municipalities and provinces to tally their numbers in their areas of jurisdiction. It also called for extra scrutiny in observing where they reside and work.

It compiled a report every 15 days with its findings in an attempt to crack down on violations.

Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi recently called on municipal chiefs and governors to strictly implement these regulations.

Security sources said that at the moment, efforts are being made to organize the presence of the refugees and compile a clear database.

Protecting Lebanon and averting strife are the Interior Ministry and security agencies’ top priorities, they told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“We will not allow any fifth column to undermine the security of the country and its citizens,” they vowed.

Syrians poured into Lebanon in 2011 through legal and illegal means, making it hard for authorities to keep track of them and tally their actual numbers.

Lebanon has been in the throes of a severe economic crisis since 2019 that has curtailed the people’s purchasing power and plunged more than half of the population in poverty.

The refugees are now perceived as competing with the Lebanese people for basic and essential goods, such as bread and fuel, as well as job opportunities, creating deep resentment and tensions. The situation came to a head with Sleiman’s killing earlier this month.



Yemen's Houthis Say to Escalate Military Operations in Support of Gaza

A Houthi military helicopter flies over a cargo ship in the Red Sea. (Reuters)
A Houthi military helicopter flies over a cargo ship in the Red Sea. (Reuters)
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Yemen's Houthis Say to Escalate Military Operations in Support of Gaza

A Houthi military helicopter flies over a cargo ship in the Red Sea. (Reuters)
A Houthi military helicopter flies over a cargo ship in the Red Sea. (Reuters)

Yemen's Houthis will continue their military operations and escalate them "in quality and quantity" in support of Palestinians in Israel's war in Gaza, the Iran-backed group's leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi said in a televised speech on Thursday, Reuters reported.

The group have been attacking ships in the Red Sea region since November, forcing shippers to re-route cargo to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa.

The group later expanded the scope of its attacks to the Indian Ocean and said it would also target any ships heading towards Israeli ports in the Mediterranean Sea.