Patriarch Says Syrian Refugees Are a ‘Total Danger for Lebanon’

Members of Secours populaire, a French non-profit association deliver food aid to Syrian refugees in the village of Al-Aqibiya near Sidon in Southern Lebanon on June 6, 2016. / AFP / MAHMOUD ZAYYAT (Photo credit should read MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)
MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

The Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Raï, has urged Lebanon’s government to repatriate Syrian refugees, who have become “a total danger” for the country.

“We cannot wait for a political solution in Syria to launch this process, as desired by some policy makers who have themselves had a hand in the destruction inflicted on Syria by the war,” the cardinal said.

Raï spoke these words in a welcome address Wednesday to the newly elected members of the Maronite League Executive Council, who visited him under the leadership of their new President Nehmetallah Abi Nasr.

The cardinal’s position on the issue aligns with that of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who told the U.N. ambassador to Syria, Geir Pedersen, on Wednesday that “we have reached the limit of our capacity” in dealing with the Syrian refugees.

The matter of Syrian refugees in Lebanon was at the heart of discussions between the two men, with President Aoun insisting that Lebanon could no longer sustain the presence of the refugees, while the U.N. ambassador countered by saying that the international community continues to link the refugee question to a resolution of Syria political situation.

“As leaders, we are concerned about our country. We have reached the limit of our capacity to bear the consequences of the presence of Syrian refugees. We must seriously work on their return to the safe zones in Syria, which are now vast and capable of welcoming them,” President Aoun told the U.N. ambassador.

“Many countries have taken part in the war in Syria and they want us to deal with the consequences,” Aoun said.

While for years Lebanon has accommodated refugees for humanitarian reasons, “this is no longer necessary since Syria has begun to regain its security and stability, apart from a few small pockets,” he said.

In his words Wednesday, Cardinal Raï underscored the religious tensions that had arisen in Lebanon because of the ongoing presence of Syrian refugees.

“In fact, we had progressed, at a certain stage in our national life, towards a homeland called Lebanon,” he said, “but now we have begun to regress with the inadmissible emergence of religious and community solidarities that undermine the country.”

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