Syria re­turn must be su­per­vised by U.N., refugees tell Bas­sil

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

BEIRUT: Care­taker For­eign Min­is­ter Ge­bran Bas­sil held a closed­door meet­ing Wed­nes­day with Syr­ian refugees liv­ing in Ar­sal and Ar­sal mu­nic­i­pal­ity of­fi­cials. The fol­low­ing ex­cerpts are from a copy of the con­ver­sa­tion ob­tained by The Daily Star.

Bas­sil asks a man who in­tro­duces him­self as Ab­del Aziz about his back­ground and who he is rep­re­sent­ing. “I live in Ar­sal, but I am from Qu­sair and I am speak­ing on be­half of the fam­i­lies who want to re­turn to Syria,” Ab­del Aziz says.

A sec­ond refugee man named Khaled who is also from Qu­sair says there are 30,000 peo­ple from the Syr­ian town liv­ing in Ar­sal now.

“Do you want to re­turn to Qu­sair?” Bas­sil asks.

Khaled an­swers, “Qu­sair fam­i­lies had a num­ber of meet­ings. Cur­rently, the se­cu­rity, de­mo­graphic, mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion [doesn’t per­mit this]. There­fore we have a num­ber of re­quests.”

Bas­sil asks in what ways Qu­sair is un­sta­ble. The man says that homes have been de­stroyed and the in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons in­side Syria have not been al­lowed to re­turn to Qu­sair.

Bas­sil asks if it is be­cause of the fight­ing that they can’t re­turn. The man says, “Yes, the fight­ing and that homes are de­stroyed.”

Bas­sil asks how much prop­erty is de­stroyed, to which the man says more than 70 per­cent.

“We thank and ap­pre­ci­ate the ef­forts by Min­is­ter Bas­sil to try to solve the Syr­ian refugee is­sue and we, as [the peo­ple of] Qu­sair, want to re­turn, but we have some wishes,” the man says be­fore pro­ceed­ing to list them:

1: We want to dis­cuss the is­sue of re­set­tle­ment to Euro­pean coun­tries be­cause the sit­u­a­tion in Qu­sair is more dif­fi­cult than in any other place in Syria.

2: We are not against the re­turn

to safe ar­eas in­side of Syria, but un­der the pa­tron­age of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and su­per­vi­sion of the United Na­tions with our right to ed­u­ca­tion, health, po­lit­i­cal free­dom and other hu­man rights.

3: We have a wish that pris­on­ers in Roumieh and other Le­banese pris­ons can go to Idlib with those who wish to re­turn.

Bas­sil asks, “So your first re­quest is to go Europe?” The man responds, “Yes, for those who wish to go.”

“So what I un­der­stand is that some of you want to go to Europe to be repa­tri­ated and some want to go to safe zones in Syria and some to re­main in Le­banon?” Bas­sil asks.

The man responds: “With all due re­spect, I do not think any­one from Qu­sair wants to re­main here [in Le­banon]. And the sit­u­a­tion is very dif­fi­cult so these are our pro­pos­als.”

Bas­sil says, “We don’t want you to go to Europe, we want you to re­main in your home­land be­cause we will lose you and Syria is go­ing to be re­built.”

A refugee who iden­ti­fies him­self as a man form Syria’s Qalam­oun says that 90 per­cent of those from the area liv­ing in Ar­sal want to re­turn.

Bas­sil asks, “So you’re say­ing in Ar­sal, most refugees are from Qalam­oun and Qu­sair – al­most 30,000 from Qu­sair and Rif Qu­sair and an­other 30, 40 or 50,000 are here from Qalam­oun?”

One refugee says: “Ninety per­cent of us from Qalam­oun want to re­turn, ac­tu­ally more than that want to re­turn. They are wait­ing for a safe re­turn. If some­one goes back and the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tuses sum­mon him or her, no one will re­turn. But if the fam­i­lies can go back and [live peace­fully], 99.99 per­cent of them will re­turn.”

Bas­sil asks, “Hy­po­thet­i­cally if the road to re­turn to Qu­sair is opened, would you re­turn? Be­cause I think about what’s go­ing on in Europe. It’s not easy to re­set­tle there un­less they come to you . ... It’s not hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cerns for Qu­sair [that they’re do­ing this], rather for what they need in terms of em­ploy­ment.

“This could ben­e­fit you but it will be hard. My ques­tion for you is if to­mor­row they came and told you that the road to re­turn is opened to Qu­sair, would the fam­i­lies from there re­turn? The one whose home was de­stroyed, what will they do?”

One man responds that Qu­sair is dif­fer­ent than any other area in Syria be­cause it had all re­li­gions in it. “We had co­ex­is­tence. To­day how is this is go­ing to re­turn to what it was? We need some more time.”

Bas­sil asks, “But if [the sit­u­a­tion in] Qu­sair is solved - just be­cause I want to hear your opin­ion - would you be will­ing to go back?” “Yes, of course,” the man says. Bas­sil then says, “To­day you’re liv­ing in a camp and for your home to be re­built you need two years. Would you think about liv­ing in a camp next to your home un­til it’s built? I’m just ask­ing be­cause I saw Le­banese fam­i­lies in south Le­banon go back and live in camps near their homes as they were be­ing built. But it’s your right to tell me no, I won’t re­turn.”

One man says in response, “No, we would re­turn. I would pre­fer to be there.”

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