Bassil, expressed his ultimate rejection of the EU’s policy aiming at keeping displaced Syrians in Lebanon

Following the billion-euro European Union aid package for Lebanon announced during the week, Leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, MP Gebran Bassil, expressed his ultimate rejection of the EU’s policy aiming at keeping displaced Syrians in Lebanon. He reaffirmed that Lebanon was neither for sale nor for rent, emphasizing that its underlying problem was the compliance of its officials to foreign policies, even if it would be at the expense of national interest. According to him, the FPM will undertake a series of steps at parliamentary and grassroots levels, in order to face the issue of displacement.

“Why are we thankful for the EU’s decision at a time where our existence and entity are at stake?” he asked. In fact, he considered that the foreign policies that are destroying us are being praised, fully complied to, and implemented, even if at the expense of national interest.

According to Bassil, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had made it clear withing that move that displaced Syrians would remain in Lebanon for at least four more years, for she had promised to grant us one billion euros for four years, which means 250 million euros a year, in return for keeping 2.2 million displaced Syrians in Lebanon. Bassil considered that con der Leyen had accordingly “rented” Lebanon and its people for 250 euros million a year. In other words, 14,000 Lebanese pounds per day for every Lebanese citizen in exchange for accepting this displacement. “Are we worth being taken for granted? Are we worth being bought on the cheap?”, he asked.

Bassil questioned whether the European Commission would commit to pay the entire amount, and if said amount would be part of the EU’s annual contribution to the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan (LCPR), to which it had previously granted 2.6 billion dollars throughout 11 years, meaning 235 dollars million a year. “We will see if the European Commission’s contribution will be added to that amount. Even if it were so, we will notice a decline in their annual contribution on one hand, and an increase in Lebanese people’s work to meet the demands of the EU on the other, notably the Lebanese army’s duty in preventing the migration of Syrians from Lebanon by sea. Bassil then recalled Caretaker Primer Minister Najib Mikati’s statement, in which the latter had expressed Lebanon’s appreciation to the EU’s support of the army and security forces to control maritime and land borders and carry out their duties to prevent illegal migration from and to Lebanon.

Furthermore, Mikati had addressed an agreement that would allow Lebanese people to go to EU countries on seasonal work. However, Bassil considered that EU countries needed foreign labour. Accordingly, they would grant visas for three renewable months with the consent of the host country, in order to address labour shortages in specific fields such as the medical field in Germany. To put it differently, it would be a persuasive and gradual migration of Lebanese people, in the name of “seasonal migration”, that might turn to a permanent one.

According to Bassil, that situation was all due to the thousands of increased Syrian migrations to Cyprus, noting that the island only covered an area of 9,250 km². Cyprus had in fact returned 107 Syrians to Lebanon. The National Security Advisor and Head of the Cypriot Intelligence Service Tasos Tzionis had already visited Lebanon and asked for Bassil’s help and understanding of the matter, without any objection thereto. President of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides had also visited Lebanon in this regard, and warned the EU that Cyprus would fall, and Europe would lose one if its 27 stars, if the number of displaced Syrians further spiked from hundreds and thousands to tens of thousands. Therefore, Cyprus’ “rightful” concern had led to the billion-dollar EU aid package for Lebanon, in exchange of helping prevent a surge in displaces Syrians leaving for Cyprus.

Bassil stressed that Cyprus deserved to be helped through a billion-euro EU aid package, noting that the Cypriot President would definitely work in the interest of Cyprus, and the European Commission President would work in the interest of the EU. However, he questioned whether Lebanese officials were working for the interest of Lebanon, or Cyprus and the EU.

As per Bassil, the President of the European Commission’s visit entitled “Europe addresses the Syrian refugee flow to Europe” clearly indicated that Lebanon should keep Syrians therein, while the EU would allow the migration of Lebanese people to Europe. Lebanon would become home to non-Lebanese, and Lebanese people would be replaced by displaced Syrians, hence changing the identity of the land and the people. Accordingly, Lebanon would vanish throughout the years. Bassil recalled repeatedly addressing the same matter ever since 3,000 displaced Syrians had entered Lebanon in 2011. “You may be able to buy officials, but not our people nor our land,” he said.

As for the talks about the new approach of the EU and the international community, Bassil highlighted some of its advantages, as he stated the presence of incentives for the voluntary return of displaced Syrians, and the acceptance to distinguish between economic migrants and displaced people for security and political reasons. However, he also highlighted the apparent disadvantages reflected in the EU’s rejection of the overall return of displaced Syrians. “They want us to be coastguards and protectors of their land,” he said.

Bassil stressed that the problem lied in the compliance of Lebanese officials to foreign policies. He addressed several questions, specifically to Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati: “How will the one billion euros be distributed? What is the share of support for the LCPR? Is it true that this agreement includes the return of displaced Syrians from Cyprus to Lebanon? Nobody can say it’s impossible, because Army Chief Joseph Aoun has personally decided to return 107 displaced Syrians from Cyprus to Lebanon. What if such a decision is taken by the Government? Will the agreement include Syrians and Palestinians who can directly reach Cyprus? Will it provide for the return of those Palestinians and Syrians to Lebanon? How will we know how Syrians will reach and be returned from Cyprus?”

“Lebanon will become a legitimate recipient of displaced persons from a third country,” he said.

“Lebanon doesn’t need money to keep Syrians therein, but a political decision to send them home,” Bassil said. According to him, the EU made its move towards Lebanon following hundreds of migrations. What will they do when those migrations turn to thousands? If a blind eye had been turned to the thousands of migrations to EU countries, the European commission would have reacted immediately and responded promptly to Lebanon’s requests. Would it be reasonable for Lebanon to accept one billion euros for four years? Lebanon must allow migration by sea, for Europeans would hence pay billions to return them to Syria instead of one billion to keep them in Lebanon, noting that the EU had previously recognized the presence of many safe areas in Syria.

Bassil stressed that the Government and Lebanese officials had to address the matter aggressively. Accordingly, The EU would comply with the terms of Lebanon. “Municipalities are required to abide by the measures that the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities has put in place, and to follow the recommendations that the FPM has developed with municipalities in our refugee-return conference. We will lead by example in Batroun, by holding a conference for the FPM and mayors, in collaboration with every stakeholder in Batroun. We will develop recommendations and implement them accordingly,” he said.

Bassil also stressed that the Government must implement the Syrian refugee repatriation plan that had been approved by the former Government and must take legal action for any violation of Lebanese law. The Lebanese army must also close land borders with Syria. As for the Parliament, it must enact a law that requires the Government to deport any illegal Syrian in Lebanon.

Furthermore, Bassil declared that the Strong Lebanon Bloc will submit a proposal for a mandatory law on the deportation of any person who violates the laws and resides in Lebanon. He wished for the head of the Administration and Justice parliamentary committee, MP Georges Adwan, and any other committee, to look into the laws submitted by said Bloc regarding displacement, since 2018. He also called on the Syrian Government to provide accommodations for displaced Syrians and urged the EU and the UNHCR to fund their return, notably economic migrants, and to lift siege of Syria to rebuild it and allow it to receive its people.

“The FPM is confronting the matter by all legitimate means. We are all invited to unite and break this plot. We will form a parliamentary delegation to explain our position to the Speaker of Parliament President Nabih Berri, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdallah Bou Habib. We will also visit the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon for enquires and we will submit a written memorandum to the EU headquarters in Brussels and the European Parliament in Strasbourg. We must also prepare for youth and municipal movements in multiple regions, starting with the EU, in order to deliver the right message.