King Salman invites Lebanese PM to take part in Arab Summit
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has invited Lebanon’s Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to take part in the Arab League summit on May 19.
The Kingdom’s ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari handed the invitation to Mikati on Monday. The pair also discussed the situation in Lebanon and Saudi-Lebanese ties, the prime minister’s media office said.
The meeting came amid fears that Syrian refugees in Lebanon, of which there are about 1.5 million, are set to remain there indefinitely. Only half of those displaced are registered with the UNHCR with the rest distributed in random camps.
The situation in Syria was also the focus of a meeting on Monday between Mikati and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon Imran Riza.
The media office said Riza congratulated Lebanon “for unifying its stance regarding the issue of Syrian refugees and thanked the Lebanese state for its effort and understanding, and for dealing with this issue in a professional manner.”
Mikati and Riza also talked about the conference to be held next month in Brussels to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis.
Walid Jumblatt, head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party, said that a central authority should be set up to deal with the refugee issue in a calm manner. His comments came after a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Sunday evening.
“It is necessary to have a single authority that deals with this matter so that we do not face prosecutions left and right,” he said.
“There are forcibly displaced people and there are those who have not been displaced, and there are residents who have been coming and going for decades, but they are residents and the Lebanese economy, even in this suffocating crisis, depends on them,” he added.
Father Tony Khadra, head of the Lebanese nongovernmental organization Labora, said on Monday that the economic repercussions of the Syrian refugee issue “affect the essence of Lebanon’s entity.”
The failure to control the huge increase in Syrian workers had caused a spike in the number of young Lebanese leaving the country, he added.
Talal Douaihy, head of the Lebanese Land Movement, said: “The demographic change in Lebanon has two sides: the systematic purchase of land by foreigners and the Syrian refugees, which today constitute a crisis whose complexities exceed what happened with the Palestinian refugees.”
He warned that the situation could implode at any moment, in light of the government’s neglect and the failures of the judicial, security and administrative authorities.
Economist Jassem Ajaka said Lebanon had been living in a state of economic decline since 2011, the year the Syrian crisis began.
“The percentage of immigrants or refugees allowed economically is less than 1 percent of the population annually. However, in Lebanon, the rate is more than 50 percent over 11 years, compared to 0.83 percent, for example, of Ukrainian refugees in Europe,” Ajaka said.
Lawyer Amin Bashir accused the UNHCR of “negligence or at least non-cooperation with regard to the legality of asylum in Lebanon.”
The refugee agency must immediately refrain from providing any assistance to those who were not registered with it, he added.
A Lebanese ministerial committee on Tuesday gave the UNHCR a week to provide the authorities with data regarding the refugees’ names and places of residence. But it is not clear if the agency has the right to disclose such information as it may put the refugees at risk.
The UNHCR last month objected to Lebanon deporting about 50 Syrians on the grounds they had entered the country illegally.
“Our first and foremost goal is to protect the most vulnerable in the host community as well as refugees, and to ensure continued adherence to the principles of international law,” UNHCR spokesperson Lisa Abou Khaled told Arab News.
“In accordance with our protection mission, the UNHCR continues to engage in constructive proposals to address the situation of refugees in Lebanon and ensure their protection, including issues related to data sharing, registration and other important aspects.”
But the agency was ready to engage in discussions on the issue of data sharing, she said.
“The UNHCR and the Lebanese General Security agreed to form a technical committee to move forward within international standards for data sharing and protection,” Abou Khaled said.
“The agency has always cooperated with the Lebanese government to share data on Syrian refugees in many important ways, including data on registered Syrian refugees before the suspension of registration by the Lebanese government, or on birth registration.”