Lebanon’s foreign ministry has expressed concerns to the country’s top U.N. official that the international body is pressuring Beirut to naturalize the large refugee population that has found shelter in tiny Lebanon.
The foreign ministry on Friday cited an April U.N. report recommending that when “conditions are not conducive” to refugees returning home, host countries should examine offering them citizenship.
But this is a sensitive topic in Lebanon, where over one in four residents is a refugee.
Syria’s war, now in its sixth year, has sent over one million refugees to tiny Lebanon. Human Rights Watch has accused Beirut of criminalizing the refugee workforce and exploiting it for cheap labor.
The U.N.’s top official to Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, says the report’s recommendations are in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention.
But Kaag stated on Friday that the controversial report of U.N. chief Ban Kin-moon on the refugees did not mention naturalizing or granting the Lebanese nationality for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“Ban knows well that the Lebanese constitution does not allow naturalization. His report did not mention Lebanon,” said Kaag after a meeting with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
“The solution to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon will only be through a political solution for the Syrian crisis and when the circumstances permit,” she added.
The Lebanese cabinet issued a statement that said:
“The cabinet reaffirmed the Lebanese consensus on rejecting naturalization and any policies that encourage the refugees to stay where they are, seeing as the only solution to the refugee crisis is the Syrians’ speedy return to their country, which contradicts with the principles of voluntary return, integration and naturalization.”
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