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Outgoing Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced on 12 October that his country will begin the process of returning Syrian refugees to their country in batches starting next week.
“The accomplishment of the [maritime border agreement with Israel] will be followed, starting next week, by the beginning of the return of Syrian refugees to their country in batches,” the Lebanese president said via Twitter.
الرئيس عون: انجاز الاتفاقية سيتبعها ابتداءً من الأسبوع المقبل، بدء إعادة النازحين السوريين الى بلدهم على دفعات
— Lebanese Presidency (@LBpresidency) October 12, 2022
Aoun’s announcement comes just two weeks before he is set to leave his post after six years in office, and coincides with the landmark border deal made with Israel.
However, Lebanon has yet to receive a response from the Syrian authorities about Syria’s readiness to accommodate the 483 families being deported.
An informed source revealed to The Cradle that Damascus has not yet responded to Beirut’s request for the repatriations, over a month after it submitted the names of 1,600 refugees who plan to go back home.
This confusion raised several questions about Aoun’s public statement concerning the Syrian refugees, considering Lebanon’s inability to complete this step without Syrian cooperation.
Nonetheless, this move falls under Aoun’s plan to end his presidency while claiming his success in completing two of his most important objectives: the maritime deal with Israel, and solving the refugee crisis in Lebanon.
Earlier this year, Lebanese officials announced plans to repatriate around one million Syrian refugees who escaped the US-sponsored war in their country, claiming Beirut was no longer capable of hosting them without foreign assistance
In June, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati urged the international community to help secure the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country.
“Lebanon has been under unbearable pressure due to the presence of more than 1.7 million displaced Syrians and Palestinian refugees living in all parts of the country, in 97 percent of Lebanon’s municipalities,” Mikati said at the time.
The prime minister added that, if the international community failed to help “ Lebanon will … work to get Syrians out through legal means and the firm application of Lebanese law.”
The plan by Beirut comes despite the opposition of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and several rights groups, who say that the involuntary repatriation of refugees is prohibited under international law by the 1951 Refugee Convention.
The UNHCR has said it will not be involved in the planned deportations. Approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees live in Lebanon, with nine out of 10 living in extreme poverty.
The economy of Lebanon has been in freefall since 2019, crushed by a crisis so severe that the World Bank described it as the world’s worst in 150 years. A year later, the country was faced with a devastating explosion at its main port, which destroyed large swathes of the capital Beirut and the country’s main grain silos.
Damascus has made numerous calls in recent years urging Syrian refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere to return to Syria.
In August, Syria’s Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf said that the “doors are open for the return of the refugees” from Lebanon, adding that “the state is ready to provide them with everything they need, from transportation, to healthcare and education.”