Syrian and Lebanese officials have discussed ways to facilitate the monthly return of 15,000 Syrian refugees to their home country.
Syrian Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf held a meeting in Damascus on Monday with visiting Lebanese Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine, during which they touched upon measures taken by Syria to secure a safe and quick home return for the refugees based on a timeline set by both countries, Xinhua news agency reported citing local media reports.
“Lebanon and Syria agree on the necessity to facilitate the return of all refugees to their homeland, not just 15,000 monthly, as stated in the plan presented by the Lebanese side,” Makhlouf told a joint press conference with the Lebanese Minister.
The Syrian government has pledged to secure basic services including transportation, accommodation, medical care, and education for all the Syrian refugees who want to come back, said Makhlouf.
He said the Syrian army has restored security and stability to large swathes of territories over the past few years, and the government has so far enabled the home return of 4 million internally displaced people and 1 million refugees overseas.
He also called on UN organisations to be “an active partner in the return of the displaced, especially when Syria is open to cooperation with Lebanon and others to facilitate the return of all the displaced, allowing them to have an active role in the reconstruction process”.
On his part, Charafeddine said “we discussed our plan in detail with Syrian authorities who expressed readiness to receive all refugees, pledging to provide them with needed facilities”, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.
The Lebanese officials intended to visit Syria soon to further coordinate their return with Syrian authorities, he added.
Charafeddine also held a separate meeting with Syrian Interior Minister Mohammad Khaled al-Rahmoun, during which the latter said the Damascus government allows holders of expired passports to return home and the registration of children who were born overseas.
Al-Rahmoun added that immigration centres at Syrian borders were all connected with the central database for civil affairs in order to provide the returnees with needed documents upon arriving in the country.
Earlier this month, Charafeddine had said that Lebanon would implement its plan regardless of the UN position as his country suffers from an unprecedented financial crisis and the influx of refugees has weighed heavily on the economy and infrastructure.
Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita in the world, with an estimated 1.5 million Syrians and some 13,715 of other nationalities.
The UNHCR representative in Lebanon has rejected the country’s plan, citing Syria is not safe for returning refugees.