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According to Ziad el Sayegh -expert in public policy, refugee and migration issues, the Syrian and Iranian regimes are manipulating the massive presence of Syrian migrants in Lebanon to serve their own agendas.

The issue of the massive presence of Syrian migrants and refugees on Lebanese territory for more than 13 years, has been thrust to the forefront following the announcement of a European Union donation to Lebanon worth 1 billion euros. The offer triggered political and public outcry suggesting that it is meant to “bribe” Lebanon in order to keep the Syrians and prevent them from migrating to Europe. Parliament convened on Wednesday (May 15) to debate the offer, and propose recommendations to pave the way for the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland.

Is Syria playing the refugee card to push the West to negotiate with it and possibly lead to the lifting of sanctions?

“The Syrian regime and its ally the Iranian regime, not forgetting Russia, which launched a return plan for Syrian refugees in 2017, want to push the West to finance a plan to rebuild Syria while imposing the continuity of the Syrian regime. The two regimes, Syrian and Iranian, are playing the refugee card for different reasons. The Syrian regime would like to take advantage of this card to lift sanctions, while the Iranian regime is pushing for a change in Syria’s identity as well as a new demographic balance under the “useful Syria” agenda. It’s in this context that we need to think about the Syrian refugee crisis. “

What position should Lebanon adopt in Brussels to win serious support for a settlement of the migrant issue?

“Lebanon must use proactive diplomacy to propose a public policy in which the return of Syrian refugees forms the hard core. A proactive diplomacy in collaboration with the European Union, especially that Europe is well aware of the causes behind the futility of any serious return plan.  Lebanon is controlled by a non-state actor (Hezbollah) who continues to push Syrians towards Lebanon.”

What should be the concrete process that should be set in motion to trigger a massive return of Syrians?

“Categorizing refugees is a necessary introduction to any return plan. Also, putting pressure on Hezbollah to seriously negotiate its illegitimate presence in large areas of Syria and impose that it withdraws from these regions in order to facilitate the return of a massive (Sunni) demography of these refugees to the areas occupied by the party, and finally to give aid to the refugees in Syria, rather than in Lebanon”.