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