German envoy denies plan to settle Syrian refugees in Lebanon
Lebanese caretaker foreign minister Gebran Bassil has accused the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and the international community of preventing Syrian refugees returning home from Lebanon.
The international community is "dismayed by repeated false accusations" that it is working to settle Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Germany's ambassador in Beirut, Martin Huth, said on Thursday.
Huth said in an emailed statement to Reuters that the international community was "fully aware of the heavy burden Lebanon is bearing" through hosting more than a million refugees.
"Many of us are doing all we can to alleviate the situation," he added, citing assistance and commitments made to Lebanon through international donor conferences and U.N. agencies.
He said the international community and the United Nations were "fully committed to an eventual return of refugees to Syria".
"At the same time, and while we do not oppose voluntary returns to Syria, conditions in that country, in our view, do not allow for a general and comprehensive return of refugees at this time."
In April, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said statements from the international community pointed "to a disguised settlement (of refugees in Lebanon) that contradicts our constitution and sovereignty".
Last week Bassil announced a freeze on applications for residency permits by UNHCR staff members in Lebanon.
As Syrian forces and their allies retake more territory, Aoun and other politicians have increasingly called for refugees to go back to areas where fighting is over before a deal is reached to end the war. The international view is that it would not be safe for them to return yet.
Aoun said on Thursday that refugees in Lebanon could begin a phased return to areas of Syria that have become safe, and that this should happen before a political solution is reached for the conflict.
"Lebanon considers that a return has become possible in stages to areas that have become safe and stable in Syria, which are five times the size of Lebanon. Most displaced people in Lebanon are from these areas which have become secure," Aoun said on his Twitter page, in remarks to the ambassadors from the countries in the International Support Group for Lebanon.