Russia is dispatching another delegation to discuss efforts to return Syrian refugees from Lebanon as Beirut steps up efforts to reduce the burden of hosting over a million displaced people.
A Russian delegation already in Beirut met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday and told him that Moscow would send special representatives from the defence ministry and the president’s office on Thursday to discuss a roadmap for refugee returns, Lebanese media reported.
The announcement comes after months of lobbying by Beirut for assistance in returning refugees. Lebanon currently hosts just under 1 million registered refugees, but the government estimates the true figure at upwards of 1.5m.
Following his meeting with the delegation on Tuesday, Mr Hariri said that he welcomes international efforts to ensure the return of Syrian refugees. He said that Russia’s roadmap had been raised at the recent meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump in Helsinki.
Mr Hariri “called on all [local] political forces, especially the Lebanese media, to accompany the developments to the return the displaced and enable [the task] to succeed while avoiding drowning it in a maze of internal disputes,” he said in a statement.
Several hundred Syrians have already left Lebanon this year to return to their home country under a system negotiated and overseen by Maj Gen Abbas Ibrahim, Lebanon’s head of the general security branch.
Mr Hariri also praised Maj Gen Ibrahim’s work “to facilitate the return of the displaced and secure the return of all those who request it”.
More than 660 refugees left the northeastern border town of Arsal on Monday in the third transfer of refugees from the town in the last month.
Some 400 refugees left Asral on June 28 followed by a further 377 refugees on July 7. Local media reported a fourth group is expected to leave in the coming days. Some 3,000 refugees in Arsal registered their name to return home earlier this year, but they had to await the green light from Lebanese and Syrian authorities.
Hezbollah also announced that it has opened refugee return centres across the country where refugees wanting to go home can give their details to be included in future transfers. Hezbollah is deeply involved in fighting in the conflict on the side of embattled Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
While the UN has been involved in helping ensure the displaced are returning voluntarily and have the needed paperwork to be able to return to Syria, it has not been involved in the process of returning people. It has long maintained that the situation is not yet stable enough for large numbers to return to Syria, although the Lebanese government claims that there are safe areas that could accommodate returnees. More Syrians have been displaced in 2018 than any other year of the yearslong war.