Switzerland partners with USEK to develop Lebanon's national policy on refugees

Since August 2017, Switzerland has supported a Lebanese initiative within the USEK – Kaslik University t
by Mey Al Sayegh

28 December 2018 | 18:27

Source: by Annahar

  • by Mey Al Sayegh
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 28 December 2018 | 18:27

BEIRUT: The Swiss Embassy closes the latest chapter of its support for Lebanon in 2018 by sponsoring a Lebanese initiative to reach a consensus on a Lebanese National Public Policy for Syrian Displacement Crisis Management and return.

Switzerland will remain active in every field in 2019, and is ready to assist the new government in implementing the “distanciation policy”, and enhancing the concept of the country’s neutrality, Swiss Ambassador to Lebanon, Monika Schmutz Kirgöz told Annahar.

Since August 2017, Switzerland has supported a Lebanese initiative within the USEK – Kaslik University that gathered political and religious leaders, academics and journalists to reach a consensus towards a Lebanese National Public Policy for Syrian Displacement Crisis Management and their return.

Why did the Swiss Embassy support this initiative?

We were particularly proud of supporting the Lebanese - Palestinian dialogue committee which made great strides in 2017 after adopting a Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon. When this initiative was launched, no one, whether Palestinian or Lebanese, said it was going to succeed, but it did. This time around, we’re attempting to see what Lebanon can produce for Syrian Refugees. It shares the same similarities with the Palestinian process but was launched with USEK University, because this university is a key to influencing certain Lebanese decision makers.

What are the main factors that led to finding a common ground between all actors during this dialogue process, while the Lebanese Cabinet failed to do that.

It is a Lebanese Initiative, we gave the possibility for dialogue, we offered the space, where they can discuss, agree and debate, and most of the time we were not present. The unique aspect of this initiative is the Lebanese were given a platform. Sometimes, when the dialogue becomes public, it becomes problematic, thus it is better to start with something discreet. The exercise at USEK was successful, and when Lebanese politicians and religious figures meet discreetly and without cameras, they could agree on some principles, and common ground.

What comes next? Will there be a follow-up process to implement the recommendations of the USEK Conference held on December 12, 2018?

We do not do things just to spend money; we are closely following up. However, Lebanese themselves are supposed to decide if they want to bring it to the table of the new cabinet once formed or to an open national discussion. Participants themselves in this process will decide, then Switzerland will examine the proposal and details and act accordingly.

Do you agree that the Russian Initiative to return of Syrian Refugees has failed so far?

We still did not see a clear initiative, it was launched as an idea, it is neither clear nor concrete for us, and we are still waiting for a clear concept. And since our president Alain Berset’s visit in late August, the Swiss position did not change; the conditions are not in place for the return of refugees and without some form of political change in Syria, there are no guarantees.

You have a good relationship with Hezbollah, and we witnessed that at the USEK conference. Is the Swiss embassy in direct connection with Hezbollah in terms of the return of Syrian refugees?

We traditionally have a stable and uninterrupted relationship with Hezbollah, but we do not specifically discuss the return of refugees.

We have a long-standing relationship, we always have an open dialogue, through ups and downs in history, and we maintained our communication channel. This is probably why there is a certain trust. Individually we did not contact them on this issue.

Will Switzerland continue its resettlement program for Syrian Refugees from Lebanon in 2019? How many Syrian refugees has Switzerland accepted so far?

Yes, we are planning to resettle up to a thousand. We roughly received more than 14,000 Syrian refugees. When you tell some Lebanese politicians that we are receiving around 15,000 Syrian refugees, they laugh at you, because Lebanon has 1,5 million, which is true, but I have to underline that 25 % of people living in Switzerland are not Swiss. I know it is still less than the percentage in Lebanon; however, it is the highest percentage of foreign residents in Europe.

Switzerland has also funded the Lebanese Government strategy on preventing violent extremism, why you are eager to support all these initiatives and what will be the Swiss priority for Lebanon in 2019?

There is no hidden agenda. It is a very deep bilateral relationship based on trust, and we have this humanitarian tradition and enormous focus on human security, mediation, peace, so it is all in the framework of the specialty of our foreign policy. We have a lot of freedom; our initiatives are often very specific, out of the box, if the Foreign Affairs Ministry agrees, we go for it, we do have no supranational institutions that we have coordinate with. This gives us freedom and a good “marge de maneuvre”.

The message is clear to Lebanon, we are not here because of the Syrian refugees, we are here for Lebanon and the Swiss embassy works for Lebanon on issues not only related to refugees.

The Cabinet formation deadlock is now in its seventh month. Do you expect a breakthrough soon?

The economy is not doing well and this hardens things for Lebanese, with a new government, the deterioration could be stopped. I really wish for Lebanon and Lebanese to have a government very soon.

The Syrian war drags into its eighth year. Do you agree that the future of Syria has been determined not in Geneva, within the framework of a UN-sponsored peace process, but in Astana?

Representatives of Astana were lately in Geneva. I would not agree, it is Geneva and then you have other important side talks. The conflict has gone through a lot of phases, where Astana was critical to build confidence and create conditions for peace. For that reason, Astana remains important. Once we witness the beginning of the post-conflict process, Geneva will again become important. It is about ceiling a political deal and peace, it is still a long way and in that long way, Geneva will come back. The conflict was not ripe to have a solution stamped in Geneva two years ago, once the becomes ripe for such a deal, it is Geneva role to step up, maybe in 2019 we will experience a shift from a military solution to a political one.

Show Comments

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.