Social Affairs Minister, Pierre Bou Assi, reiterated the need to address the crisis of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and to ensure their return to their homeland as soon as possible, without having to wait for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

"Lebanon suffers a lot on so many different levels because of this crisis," the Minister said during a seminar held by the Middle East Program at Woodrow Wilson Center for Research in Washington, which tackled the issue of Syrian refugees and the challenges that their presence poses at the Lebanese domestic scene, especially at the level of economy and infrastructure.

The seminar was attended by former US Congressman of Lebanese origin, Nick Rahal, Lebanon's Delegate to the United Nations, Ambassador Amal Mdalali, Charge d'Affaires of the Lebanese Embassy in Washington, Ambassador Carla Jazzar, as well as a number of researchers, analysts, and journalists.

The Minister of Social Affairs presented the challenges faced by the Ministry of Social Affairs.

"We have a number of issues related to the post-war situation in terms of the number of people with physical and psychological disabilities, in addition to orphans and the elderly. Therefore, these segments of society must be taken care of. In light of the difficult economic conditions at the local and regional levels, along with the Syrian refugee crisis, approximately 28 % of the Lebanese are below the poverty line," Bou Assi said.

The Minister went on to say that Lebanon hosted 1.5 million Syrian refugees, while the Lebanese population is 4 million.

"The first challenge is of a humanitarian nature because the Lebanese are torn between their human values and their rising concerns that accompany the presence of refugees -- no matter of what origin -- in Lebanon," he added.

However, he made clear that approaching this matter he made sure to separate between the humanitarian and political aspects of the Syrian refugee crisis.

"At the humanitarian level, the displaced are the victims of the conflict in their country and must therefore be supported at all levels. In order to finance their presence, we always resort to donors because Lebanon does not have the capacity to shoulder these burdens singlehandedly," he added.

"At the political level, we insist that the return of displaced Syrians must take place as swiftly as possible; it is better for them to return to their country because Lebanon no longer enjoys the capability of bearing this huge burden, at all levels," he added.

Touching on Hezbollah, particularly in terms of the U.S. State Department's announcement of the possibility of Hezbollah's involvement in operations inside the United States, Bou Assi explained that the issue of Hezbollah was a very complex one in Lebanon.

"This party has representatives in the government and parliament, but it also has armed troops fighting in Syria, and present in Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain."

On the Saudi position vis-a-vis Lebanon, Bou Assi said: "It [KSA] has always supported the Lebanese state, but has been aware of the fact that Lebanon is gradually sliding towards the Iranian camp," the Minister said, blaming "Hezbollah's pressure" for this actuality.

"This is what worries the Saudis and worries us as well," he added.

As for the eligibility of the upcoming parliamentary elections, Bou Assi praised the fact that the new law allowed non-resident Lebanese nationals to cast their vote from their places of residence.

"This is why we encourage all the Lebanese expatriates to register their names on the electoral rolls at Lebanese embassies and consulates," he added.

Source: National News Agency

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