Beirut: Lebanon is to keep its border with Syria open to refugees but will seek more aid from other Arab states and the international community, the government decided late on Thursday.
The cabinet rejected calls from ministers of the Free Patriotic Movement to close the border with the number of refugees in Lebanon already totalling 156,000, according to UN figures, and 200,000 according to government estimates.
“The government has decided to call for urgent meetings of the Arab League and international organisations so we can explain the situation of the refugees,” a statement said.
Ministers also agreed to “appeal to donor states to honour their aid pledges to Lebanon and to launch a diplomatic campaign both in the Arab world and internationally to persuade Arab and friendly governments to share the financial and logistical burden with Lebanon”.
Lebanon called in early December for $363 million (Dh1.3 billion) to cope with the influx.
Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour on Friday asked Arab League chief Nabeel Al Arabi to gather the ministers of member nations in “the coming days” to address the issue, state news agency ANI reported.
Mansour also met Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali, who said that “many Syrian refugees have already returned from neighbouring countries now that security has been restored in hot spots”.
Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faur told reporters there had been intense debate at the meeting about closing the border.
But in the end most ministers felt such a move “was impractical because, beyond humanitarian considerations and considerations of fraternity and [Arab] nationalism, I don’t think any official at the border is going to tell a Syrian family fleeing for their lives ‘I refuse you entry to Lebanon’,” Abu Faur said.
The government is dominated by Shiite militant movement Hezbollah. The Free Patriotic Movement is its Christian ally.