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Michel Aoun says Palestinian, Syrian refugees threaten Lebanon's existence

Aoun called on the MECC to assist his country in resolving the refugee issue [AFP]

Date of publication: 10 May, 2019

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Lebanese president Michel Aoun said Lebanon would not survive if Palestinian and Syrian refugees remained in the country.
Syrian and Palestinian refugees are an existential threat to Lebanon, President Michel Aoun said late on Thursday.

"Lebanon would never survive if half a million Palestinian refugees and 1.6 million Syrian refugees remained in the country," Aoun said during a meeting with a delegation from the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) at the presidential palace in Beirut.

Aoun called on the MECC to assist his country in resolving the refugee issue "by persuading western countries to accept the refugees return to their countries as soon as possible", according to a statement released by the president's office.

He also pointed out that "Israel has declared that the Palestinian refugees would remain where they are," and warned that if the refugees remained in Lebanon, "its' demographics would change completely".

Read more: Syrian refugees struggle for healthcare in Lebanon

Lebanon says it is hosting 1.5 million Syrians - around a quarter of its own population. Less than one million of them are registered with UN refugee agency the UNHCR.

They are frequently subjected to harrasment and detention by Lebanese security forces on various pretexts and suffer harsh living conditions.

Lebanese authorities have recently placed increasing pressure on Syrians in the country to return to Syria, saying that it is safe for them to do so. 

The United Nations has consistently warned that conditions in the war-ravaged country are not suitable for such returns.

There have been reports of returning refugees being detained, conscripted into the army, or even killed by Assad regime forces in Syria.

Earlier this week Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun's son-in-law, came under fire after criticising refugees on social media.

Bassil, the Christian-dominated Free Patriotic Movement leader, has courted controversy in the past for his anti-refugee rhetoric.

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