A Syrian refugee woman throws flowers on Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, center, during his visit a Syrian refugee camp, in Arsal, near the border with Syria, east Lebanon, Wednesday, June 13, 2018. A public spat between the Lebanese government and the United Nation's refugee agency deepened Wednesday as Lebanon's caretaker foreign minister kept up his criticism, accusing the agency of discouraging Syrian refugees from returning home. Lebanon is home to more than a million Syrian refugees, or about a quarter of the country's population, putting a huge strain on the economy. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A Syrian refugee welcomes Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil during his visit to a refugee camp in Arsal, near the border with Syria. AP Photo

Syrian ambassador to Lebanon calls for refugees to return



Syria's ambassador to Lebanon has called for Syrian refugees to return home and for the countries hosting them to ease the transition.

Ali Abdul Karim told Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil during a meeting on Thursday that certain agreements were being followed up on to help Syrian refugees return, according to a statement released by the minister's office.

Lebanon and Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, announced after talks last week that they would form a joint committee to facilitate repatriation of Syrian refugees.

“We discussed the Russian initiative, and the positive moves taken towards the Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Europe. The initiative will help ease their return, especially since President Bashar Al Assad is not issuing any barriers to that,” Mr Karim said.

The ambassador's meeting with Mr Bassil was a rare direct contact between Syrian and Lebanese officials, underlining the desire on both sides to see Syrians return home now that Mr Al Assad's government has regained control of most of the country after years of conflict triggered by an uprising against him in 2011.

Nearly one million Syrians are registered with the UN in Lebanon, but some officials claim their number is as high as 1.5 million. With the country hosting the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide, Lebanese officials are keen for Syrians to return home.

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“The minister Bassil assured me that more Syrians are interested in returning to their homes that are not overrun by terrorists, which makes up the majority of the land in Syria now," the Syrian ambassador said.

“They come to the embassy and say they want to return, and we tell them there is nothing holding them back, and that Syria needs its sons and daughters now, and welcomes them by easing their return,” he said.

According to UN figures, more than 5 million Syrians have fled the country — roughly a quarter of the pre-war population.

One deterrent for Syrians hoping to go home is the fear of being drafted into compulsory military service, which requires Syrians between 18-49 to serve between one and three years. But the ambassador said moves are being made to waive that law for returnees.

“President Al Assad issued more than one amnesty decree for every person who fled, escaped, or escaped from prison,” he said.

Those who have spent more than four years out of Syria or have special circumstances can pay a fee to waive their compulsory military service.

Mr Karim said the military was in control of the captured areas, adding that normal life had returned and the industries have begun working in many areas. “That will encourage those to return,” he said.

“Syria is in need of hands, and of expertise that is in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan and Egypt and all other countries. And it needs investment in the country, and the Syrians have the right to rebuild what the terrorists destroyed.

“Syria was a country that was above many in the world, a country with a unique environment where religions have their freedom. The wagers the US, Israel and foreign forces took to topple Syria, that is confident in its victory today, and the terrorists, of whom some still remain in Idlib or other areas in Deir Ezzor, all those wagers they placed on us is out of the question now.”

Mr Karim said the Syrian embassy was open to the Lebanese authorities and the president “24 hours" and that "the foreign ministries are open for co-operation”.

“All initiatives have to pass through us first, otherwise it would not be right, and therefore this is a call for all Syrians. Those who don’t have anything to hold them back from heading towards Syria’s borders, all Syria’s cities are waiting for its children. Any small issues can be dealt with between the two countries, Lebanon and Syria. The financial penalties must be lifted … when they are raised, the main barrier to return is raised, then Syrians will begin coming back," the ambassador said.

“Of course there is a benefit to Jordan and Lebanon in opening the borders, and I think consultation is going on, and those who have done Syria wrong and their countries, that needs more investigation."

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Produced: Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Rajkumar Hirani

Director: Rajkumar Hirani

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal, Anushka Sharma, Manish’s Koirala, Dia Mirza, Sonam Kapoor, Jim Sarbh, Boman Irani

Rating: 3.5 stars

Company profile

Company: Zywa
Started: 2021
Founders: Nuha Hashem and Alok Kumar
Based: UAE
Industry: FinTech
Funding size: $3m
Company valuation: $30m

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
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Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

Herc's Adventures

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Console: PlayStation 1 & 5, Sega Saturn
Rating: 4/5

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices