Local divisions to blame for Lebanon's failed refugee policies

Ever since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, displaced Syrians have made their way across the globe attempting to escape the carnage
by Ziad El Sayegh

12 February 2019 | 14:25

Source: by Annahar

  • by Ziad El Sayegh
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 12 February 2019 | 14:25

yrian refugees gather in and near their vehicles getting ready to cross into Syria from the eastern Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, Thursday, June 28, 2018. (AP)

BEIRUT: The debate surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis has long been regarded as an attempt to score political points on both the domestic and international fronts.

This was evident during both the 2018 Brussels Conference aimed at supporting refugees and the Arab Socio-Economic summit held in Beirut last month.

Ever since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, displaced Syrians have made their way across the globe attempting to escape the carnage with over 1.5 million settling in Lebanon over the years.

Fingers can easily be pointed at the mismanagement of the crisis which has seen more than 5 million refugees scattered with world leaders failing to come up with a comprehensive strategy to ensure their return.

Lebanon has welcomed around 1.5 million refugees according to certain estimates, yet the burden is proving to be too heavy as its infrastructure and economy continue reeling as a result of the crisis.

International aid has thus far acted as a bandaid solution to the problem as Lebanese officials continue bickering over how to manage the crisis and the relationship with the Syrian government.

The problem was further compounded after Syrian President Bashar Assad issued Law 10, which possibly exiled thousands who fled the conflict by permitting the state to confiscate properties if those affected failed to declare ownership within a certain timeframe.

Despite Russia's assurances that it would pressure Syrian officials to overturn this law, concerns have arisen over Syrian refugee's ability to reclaim their properties. Some feel it is not safe for them to return while others simply do not possess property deeds to prove ownership.

Add to that mandatory military conscription and population swaps across parts of Syria to consolidate Assad's grip, and Lebanon faces an arduous task to secure the return of its refugee population.

Given that there is no military solution to the war in sight, Lebanon must lead the charge for a unified policy that marks the transition from a response to a management plan.

Lebanon's newly appointed Cabinet must now reach a national consensus and endorse a policy in which the government clearly sets its priorities, objectives, and responsibilities.

The strategy, with humanitarian and developmental dimensions, should be based on the notion of maintaining Lebanon's national security.

A memorandum of understanding should also be reached with the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees in which mutual duties and responsibilities are determined.

The cooperation with the UNHCR should also be in line with the agreements and stipulations agreed upon in the Cedre IV conference, during which increased support was vowed for Lebanon as a host country.

Concrete and statistical data, which has proved hard to come by, should also be standardized and exchanged between both the Lebanese government and the UNHCR. This would permit Lebanese officials to better analyze the flow of refugees in and out of the country.

Finally, the United Nations should play a leadership role to ensure that the political process is meaningful and inclusive while establishing legal, economic and social guarantees for the survival of those who return.

On the diplomatic front, the return of refugees should be added to the agenda of the International Support Group for Lebanon while coordination between Jordan and Turkey, the other two major regional host countries, should be enhanced.

Some may argue that the elements of a national road map for the return of refugees has become a utopian belief. Yet what is needed is a collective awakening to pull Lebanon out of this crisis.

Ziad El Sayegh is an expert in Public Policies and Refugee crises. 

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