The ongoing Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon took center stage in a round-table discussion organized by Kulluna Irada, centered around the theme, "Syrian Refugees in Lebanon: Ways to Manage the Crisis and Ensure the Right of Return."
The event was attended by several Members of Parliament, including Ghassan Skaff, George Okais, Ibrahim Mneimneh, Mark Daou, and Michel Doueihy, along with Kulluna Irada Executive Chairman, Albert Kostanian.
Diana Menhem, the Executive Director of Kulluna Irada, spoke about the complexity of the crisis, advocating for a differentiated approach to the Syrian population in Lebanon. "Twelve years into the crisis and with no comprehensive political solution in sight, the different categories of Syrians need distinct solutions, including return to specific areas, accompanied by Arab and international efforts for reconstruction," she noted.
Menhem further emphasized that the recent Arab Summit held in Jeddah last May could serve as a pivot point for garnering commitments from the Syrian regime to ensure the right of return, backed by Arab guarantees. "Lebanon needs to take an active role in this process," she added.
Ziad Sayegh, an expert in refugee and immigration affairs, criticized the initial handling of the Syrian displacement issue since 2011. He proposed a more organized system of temporary border shelters to manage the return more effectively. Sayegh also called for more proactive Lebanese diplomacy to work in tandem with Geneva negotiations, to coordinate fully with the United Nations and the Arab League.
Legal advisor at Kulluna Irada, Ali Murad, urged for the regularization of refugees' legal status through a system for refugee census and maintaining updated data. This, according to Murad, would allow for better management of the crisis and necessary information to organize their return.
Dominique Tohmé, a liaison officer at UNHCR Lebanon, stated that refugees want to return, the question is not "if" but "when". Collective efforts are needed to address their concerns for a safe, dignified, but most importantly, a sustainable return.
Haneen El Sayed, a former consultant at World Bank MENA in Human Development and Social Protection, underlined the economic and social toll the Syrian conflict has imposed on Lebanon since 2011. "The conflict reduced the GDP growth rate by 1.7 percentage points annually between 2011 and 2019, increased poverty by 7 points, and put immense pressure on services like education, healthcare, electricity, and water," she said.
El Sayed suggested that Lebanon can learn from other countries' approaches to mitigate the impact of refugee inflow, like the Jordan Compact, and utilize facilitated funds from the international community.
Syrian researcher and journalist Roger Asfar pointed out that not all Syrians residing in Lebanon are refugees, but those who are must be protected. He added that Lebanon is not only affected by the Syrian refugee crisis, but has also been a part of the Syrian tragedy, thus bearing part of the responsibility.
The round-table ended with an emphasis on the urgency of the Syrian refugee issue and the need for innovative solutions that respect human rights while alleviating the burden on host communities.
The article is also available on LBCI's website here.