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Lebanon Faces Increased Pressures From Syrian Refugees

Mohammad Harfoush reports on how Lebanon is trying to deal with the strain of increasing numbers of Syrian refugees.
U.S. actress Mia Farrow (C), a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, sits with children of Syrian refugees at an UNICEF office in Wadi Khaled, north Lebanon, January 14, 2013. Farrow is on a two day visit to Lebanon, meeting Syrian refugees. REUTERS/Roula Naeimeh (LEBANON - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS ENTERTAINMENT)

Lebanon is currently focusing on the meeting of donor countries to be held in Kuwait on Jan. 19, which is being hosted to help provide support for displaced Syrians with the participation of Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and the Gulf countries, as well as European donor countries.

This meeting holds great significance because the displaced Syrians issue is one of the most serious effects of the Syrian crisis and will remain on the table for as long as the bloody conflict in Syria continues.

In this context, there is a possibility that Lebanon will have to deal with the effects of a possible escalation of the Syrian crisis, especially following the international disapproval of Assad’s last speech.

According to reports, representatives of UN bodies are considering establishing permanent centers for displaced Syrians in order to bring them together and reduce the cost of dealing with a dispersed population. Such would be the case if the Syrian war drags on and military operations move into new areas, resulting in new waves of migrants that would further worsen the ongoing crisis.

The reports also state that putting an end to the conflict is no longer a solution to the displaced Syrian crisis. If the Syrian regime comes out victorious, opposition refugees won’t dare to return home. And if the opposition group wins the war and brings down the regime, pro-regime refugees in Lebanon will not return to Syria; rather even larger numbers would flood into Lebanon for fear of revenge. Furthermore, tens of thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed during the battles, and the reconstruction process will take years due to the fragile and weak economy.

Despite the implication of these reports, the impressions as well as the political environment and stances indicate that Lebanon would not approve of building refugee camps, given divisions within Lebanese society regarding this issue which has triggered an ongoing political crisis that might stir up conflict at any moment. The dispute in Lebanon over the issue of displaced Syrians resonated politically when the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali, sent a letter to the Lebanese government through Adnan Mansour, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He accused the Ministry of Social Affairs of providing aid to Syrian “Takfiri” groups fleeing to Lebanon, and pressuring other displaced Syrians to resort to these groups in order to receive health and food aid.

Regime concerns continue to rise regarding the number of displaced Syrians, especially in light of international attention given by the UN and the international community. Therefore, the regime is taking actions at different levels in order to contain the crisis by communicating with host countries.

The letter from the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, addressed to the Lebanese government, reveals this official leaning on the part of Syria.

Mohammad Harfoush is a Lebanese journalist reporting for the Kuwaiti Al-Anbaa newspaper and the author of Eritrea: Basic Facts.

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