It was often said that “the Free Patriotic Movement ministers and their allies failed to communicate with the Syrian regime during the governments of former Prime Ministers Najib Mikati and Tammam Salam, to secure the return of Syrian refugees”, consequently undermining the fact that during PM Mikati’s government (2011), the war in Syria was (brutally) raging and more than 70% of Syrian territories were under terrorists’ control, making the “return” practically impossible. Nevertheless, the Free Patriotic Movement did much more than other Lebanese parties to control the randomized influx of Syrian refugees by proposing various efficient solutions during PM Salam’s government in 2014, some of which were:
• Completing a comprehensive survey/census of all Syrian displaced and keeping track of their numbers and locations.
• Enforcing the registration of all Syrians refugees and their families.
• Granting refugees work permits that can be monitored and revoked as deemed necessary.
• Registering all Syrian births in the Syrian Embassy in Lebanon.
• Deporting all habitual offenders and potential criminals.
• Controlling the borders and preventing mass migrations.
• Limiting entry to extreme humanitarian cases.
And most important was (and still is) the adamant opposition of (then) Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil to the Naturalization Project, despite United Nations Secretary General’s 2016 initiative impelling all hosting countries to grant citizenship to Syrian refugees. In addition, Minister Bassil strived to enforce the registration of all Syrian births in refugee camps to avoid cases of undisclosed records and “no nationality” statuses that might predispose those individuals to claim the nationality of the country they live in.
So, no, FPM ministers and their allies did not “fail” to communicate with the Syrian regime in past governments; instead, and in the face of a ghastly and complex ongoing war, they offered operative solutions and created effective processes to control and minimize the detrimental effects of a multifaceted crisis of massive magnitude. They deftly compromised while other Lebanese factions and the international community watched in shameful silence.
But now, the situation is different. With more than 90%% of Syria’s territories under government control, the “safe” and “dignified” return of Syrian refugees that President Aoun and Minister Bassil have long advocated for has become possible and favorable. With the doors tightly closed to naturalization and re-settlement, the time has come to communicate with the Syrian regime and the international community to endorse and support the only solution to the displacement crisis.