Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees living along the eastern border of Lebanon have refused a deal that would have allowed them to return home, citing the miserable and dangerous conditions that persist in their country of origin.
“Khaled Raad, a member of the refugees’ Coordination Committee with the Lebanese government, says the vast majority of the refugees in Lebanon’s Arsal border region will not accept to return to Syria, for fear of war, hardship, and oppressive jihadist rule,” reported the Associated Press on Tuesday.
The AP cites United Nations estimates of about 51,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Evidently, many of them will be hanging back while 9,000 al-Qaeda prisoners of war are sent back to Syria in a prisoner swap arranged with Lebanese Hezbollah. The trade was supposed to happen on Monday, but it was delayed due to logistical problems encountered while arranging the necessary transportation—or, according to some reports, by al-Qaeda making new demands at the last minute.
The prisoner deal was intended to allow civilian refugees to return to Syria as well, clearing Syrians out of Lebanon while Hezbollah works with the Syrian army to drive rebel forces away from the border region. The refugees may have felt nervous about riding home on the same buses as the jihadis who threaten their lives. Also, Syrians opposed to the Assad regime have learned to be wary of relocation arrangements that leave them all sitting in one place, exposed to airstrikes and artillery.
Another Associated Press report quotes a Syrian who explains that Lebanon is preferable to Syria, even with all of the restrictions placed on refugees by the Lebanese government, saying, “There are people who say Idlib is going to become a second Mosul, and I would rather stay in Lebanon and go to prison than move there. Those who are staying are unhappy, and those who are leaving are also unhappy.”
In other words, he is saying the Idlib province in Syria will become a terrorist stronghold akin to the Islamic State’s Iraqi capital of Mosul, which had to be bombed to smithereens in order to liberate it. On a more optimistic note, the AP reports that refugees hope their treatment in Lebanon will improve once the terrorists and jihadis have been shipped home.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has expressed reservations about the deal between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, worried that “conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place.”
On Monday, actor George Clooney and his wife Amal, with support from Google and HP Inc., announced a $3.25 million donation to help UNICEF and the Lebanese ministry of education provide schools for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.