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The Director of General Security, Elias Baissari, has been tasked by the government to initiate talks with the Syrian authorities on the repatriation of displaced Syrians and migrants serving prison terms in Lebanon.

The decision was made during a ministerial, security and judicial meeting chaired by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Serail on Tuesday. The aim is to find solutions to the multifaceted challenge of repatriating Syrian convicts.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdallah Bou Habib, complained during the meeting about occasional interventions made by politicians to secure the release of apprehended Syrians.

“Whenever an illegal Syrian is arrested, someone intervenes to release him,” Bou Habib said, urging those concerned to refrain from obstructing legal procedures.

For his part, Minister of Justice Henry Khoury underlined the persistent illegal entry of Syrian migrants fleeing economic conditions at home, and the crucial need to communicate with the Syrian authorities to alleviate overcrowding in prisons, where an estimated 2,500 Syrians are incarcerated.

He said that the decision should cover “all cases,” including those who are convicted and those waiting for trial, “without exception.”

What Changed?

While Syrians have been fleeing to Lebanon since the war started at home in 2011, recent events in Lebanon and the region have caused the situation to change for the displaced population.

However, today, Lebanon is grappling with a surge in criminal activities, prompting concerns about public safety. Recent crimes attributed to Syrians, including the killing of the coordinator of the Lebanese Forces in Jbeil, Pascal Sleiman, an elderly man in Achrafieh, and most recently, a resident of Aley region, caused a civilian outcry across the country.

In a related development, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides declared that the recent surge in illegal arrivals of Syrians from Lebanon via the sea caused the island to reach a breaking point in its reception capacity, resulting in the closure of asylum applications.

The Return

Recent events prompted a partial change in international response. On Monday, EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Várhelyi called for “facilitating the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of Syrian refugees in cooperation with Lebanese authorities, the UNHCR, and IOM.” It is the first time that a European Union official raised the possibility of a “safe, voluntary, and dignified” return home for displaced Syrians who have sought refuge in Lebanon since 2011, without linking it to a political solution in Syria. This followed Cyprus’ appeal on April 3 for action from the EU to curb the illegal arrival of Syrians via Lebanon.

Additionally, the appeal led to an agreement between Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to “coordinate with the European Union (EU) efforts to set up a framework for halting migratory flows, providing aid to Lebanon and encouraging displaced Syrians to return home.”

Christodoulides also stated that he would revisit Lebanon with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on May 2 to announce an initiative for a larger financial package from the EU to deal with Lebanon’s refugee crisis.