BEIRUT: After seemingly hitting a dead end in their quest to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees, Lebanese officials have reached a breakthrough in the wake of the U.S-Russia summit in Helsinki.
The issue was brought up in the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S counterpart Donald Trump after an extensive lobbying campaign by caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Bassil had an extensive dialogue with Russian Special Envoy to the Middle East and North Africa Mikhail Bogdanov that spanned several months, urging him to pave the way for refugees to return to alleviate the burden they posed on the Lebanese state.
Last week, the head of Russia's National Defense Control Center Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said that a "package of proposals prescribes the development of a joint plan on the return of refugees to places of pre-conflict residence, the priority return of Syrian citizens from Lebanon and Jordan, the establishment of a joint Russian-US-Jordanian group on the basis of the Amman monitoring center, and the formation of a similar group in Lebanon."
The plan, to be overseen by the Russian ambassador in Lebanon Alexander Zasebkin, will seek to set up centers tasked with steamrolling their return.
The move gained traction after Moscow made it clear that the return of Syrian refugees, who have been in exile ever since the neighboring civil war broke out, should not be tied to a political resolution of the conflict.
According to Russian estimates, there are over 1.5 million refugees scattered across Lebanon including the 976,000 registered with the UNHCR, with around 200,000 residing illegally.
At the same time, there are 30,000 Syrians who actively participated in military activities in Syria currently finding shelter in Lebanon, which further complicates the repatriation effort.
Negotiations are currently taking place to resolve their status and grant them amnesty, with head of State Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim leading the charge by negotiating with Syrian authorities.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri praised the work undertaken by Ibrahim “to facilitate the return of the displaced and secure the return of all those who request it.”
More than 800 refugees left the northeastern border town of Arsal on Monday in the largest transfer of refugees from the town in the last month.
888 refugees elected to return to the Qalamoun region, northeast of Damascus through the Zamarani crossing, under the watchful eye of the Lebanese army and international aid organizations.
Some 400 refugees left Asral on June 28 followed by a further 377 refugees on July 7, with many expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.
An-Nahar is not responsible for the comments that users post below. We kindly ask you to keep this space a clean and respectful forum for discussion.