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25 June, 2024
 
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Hezbollah leader calls for migrant boat access to Cyprus

Lebanon should let refugees sail to Europe, says Hezbollah chief

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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Monday called on Lebanese authorities to allow migrant boats to head to Europe amid rising anti-Syrian sentiment and accusations that Western countries aim to confine refugees in Lebanon.

According to a report on AFP, Nasrallah's comments came shortly after the European Union announced a $1 billion aid package for Lebanon to address irregular migration. Critics in Lebanon, grappling with a severe economic crisis, argue that the aid is primarily intended to prevent refugees from leaving the country, despite growing demands for them to return to Syria.

In a televised address, Nasrallah proposed a bold strategy: "We need a national decision to open the sea. Anyone who wants to leave for Europe, for Cyprus, the sea is in front of you. Take a boat and board it."

He clarified, however, that his proposal does not involve forcibly expelling Syrians. "We do not suggest forcing displaced Syrians to board boats and leave for Cyprus and Europe," he stated in his speech broadcast on Al-Manar television.

Cyprus, the European Union's easternmost member, is located less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Lebanon and Syria. The island nation has expressed a strong desire to curtail the departure of migrant boats from Lebanese shores.

Nasrallah highlighted the current restrictions on refugees attempting to leave Lebanon, noting that these limitations drive them to rely on smugglers and precarious rubber boats, resulting in tragic drownings. He criticized the Lebanese army for enforcing political decisions that prevent refugees from migrating safely.

Lebanon hosts approximately two million Syrians, making it the country with the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. Of these, nearly 785,000 are registered with the United Nations.

Nasrallah urged Lebanon to work with the Syrian government to facilitate the return of displaced Syrians and to deliver aid within Syria. He called on the Lebanese parliament to push the EU and the United States to lift sanctions on Syria, which Damascus claims hinder aid and reconstruction efforts. "If sanctions on Syria aren’t lifted, there will be no return" of refugees, Nasrallah asserted.

His comments come as Lebanon prepares to resume "voluntary returns" of Syrian refugees, with dozens of families expected to cross back into Syria through two land border points in eastern Lebanon. This move marks the resumption of returns after a year-and-a-half hiatus.

Lebanon's economic collapse, which began in late 2019, has turned the country into a departure point for migrants, including Lebanese citizens, Syrians, and Palestinian refugees, all risking dangerous sea journeys to Europe.

The situation has been exacerbated by some Lebanese politicians who blame Syrians for the country's deepening crises. This sentiment often intensifies ahead of the annual Brussels conference on Syria, set for May 27 this year.

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly cautioned that Syria remains unsafe for returning refugees.

[With information sourced from AFP]

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Cyprus  |  Syria  |  EU

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