The European Union reiterated Friday that it has never advocated for the settlement of Syrian refugees in Lebanon after two rival protests were held near the EU delegation’s headquarters in Beirut.
“We agree with our Lebanese counterparts that their (refugees) stay in Lebanon is temporary. We also agree that returns should happen in so far as they are voluntary, dignified, safe, and in line with international law,” the delegation said.
“It is not the decision of the European Union for Syrian refugees to stay in Lebanon or to leave the country. In this regard, we welcome the reassurances received by the Lebanese Government that it remains committed to upholding its obligations under international human rights law,” it added.
The statement came after protesters held a rally near the EU mission’s offices in Beirut calling for the return of displaced Syrians while a counter-protest raised slogans rejecting discrimination and racism.
The first group held placards demanding that refugees residing in Lebanon since the 2011 Syria war return to their country. They said the Lebanese are suffering from the economic burdens of the refugee presence in the country.
“We want to eat, we want to live, we want the refugees to return,” chanted the protesters.
But the counter-protest raised anti-racism posters, shouting slogans against hate.
“Refugees are not our enemies,” they said.
The delegation said in its statement the EU “acknowledges that Lebanon has shown extraordinary hospitality towards people fleeing conflict in Syria, and has been carrying an enormous burden since the outbreak of the conflict.”
“We also believe that Lebanon should not carry this burden alone. It is our common responsibility to cater for the needs of the refugees, while supporting the communities hosting them,” it added.
The delegation stated that the EU has considerably stepped up its support to Lebanon. “We provide significant assistance to the Lebanese communities affected by the refugee presence, including the delivery of basic services, improving local infrastructure, education and health.”