German chancellor's visit to Beirut followed a stop in Jordan where she pledged economic assistance
Merkel offers support for Lebanon's refugee burden
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday reaffirmed her support for Lebanon and “the tremendous burden it has shouldered” in taking in more than a million Syrian refugees, as she wrapped up a two-day trip to the Middle East.
“We want to contribute to finding a solution for Syria,” Mrs Merkel said during a press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. “Lebanon is in a very difficult regional environment right now.”
Mrs Merkel’s trip focused heavily on refugee issues, including funding and political support for UN agencies. On Friday, she visited a Lebanese school that holds a second shift of classes each day to accommodate Syrian students.
Lebanese politicians, including President Michel Aoun, have intensified their calls in recent weeks for Syrians to return home.
Mr Aoun and others have also suggested that the international community intends to permanently resettle Syrian refugees in Lebanon and have them naturalised as Lebanese citizens.
Mr Hariri addressed that concern by pointing out that even after 70 years, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon have never received citizenship.
“Our constitution is very clear about naturalisation,” Mr Hariri said. “Were the Palestinian refugees naturalised?”
There are about one million Syrian refugees registered with the UN in Lebanon – although the government says the actual number in the country is upwards of 1.5 million. Their presence has placed a great strain on Lebanon's fragile infrastructure and economy, despite international assistance to help the country cope.
“I have explained to Chancellor Merkel that the only solution is for Syrians to return to Syria,” Mr Hariri said.
While a small fraction of the refugees have recently expressed the intent to return to Syria, the vast majority still consider the country too unsafe to do so.