BEIRUT: For the sweeping majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, at least one of three conditions, if not all three, must be met for them to return home.
These include abolishing mandatory military conscription, providing guarantees that pro-opposition refugees would be safe and not subject to politically motivated prosecutions, and ensuring access to housing, basic services, and health care.
The Syrian regime can independently meet two of these demands while the third requires the West and allied Arab states to finance reconstruction efforts, which the US and its allies say hinges on a comprehensive political settlement that guarantees sustainable peace, which seems unlikely in the near future amid simmering regional tensions.
Tying the funding of reconstruction efforts to a political settlement means the West assumes partial responsibility for hindering the return of Syrians. But it is the Syrian regime that bears most of the blame for failing to meet the former two conditions as President Bashar Assad vies to cement the Alawite grip on strategic areas in Syria following the mass transfers that marked the seven-year conflict.
This is further evident in property law 10 and the non-existent efforts from Syrian diplomatic and security channels to ease refugees' return despite the campaign undertaken by Lebanon's General Security agency in this regard.
The Syrian regime's obstruction of refugees' return as Assad seeks to consolidate demographic changes across Syria and blackmail the international community to fund reconstruction efforts leaves the West with two choices: take Syrians in or leave them in Lebanon.
Lebanon is the obvious choice. And this is why the West has pledged to finance infrastructure projects that provide a much needed economic boost provided that Lebanon enacts the necessary reforms
But will the ruling class truly pursue reforms? And if so, will soft loans be enough to avert an imminent collapse? Probably not as Lebanon's political leaders continue to trade accusations in an attempt to shift attention away from their own failure by blaming the dire economic situation solely on refugees while ignoring decades of failed policies and rampant corruption across state institutions.
Asking world powers to share the burden of the refugee crisis is understandable and justified. However, attacking the West for obstructing their return and straining ties with the international community is definitely not the right strategy to pursue; Not if Lebanon wants to decelerate its free fall.
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