Thursday, May 2, 2024

Lebanon urged to finalize deal with EU border agency to curb illegal migration


The European Union (EU) has announced a significant aid package of 1 billion euros ($1.06 billion) for Lebanon to help enhance border control and curb the flow of asylum-seekers and migrants from the country to Cyprus and Italy. This aid comes at a crucial time as Lebanon faces increasing hostility towards Syrian refugees and a surge in irregular migration to Cyprus.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, along with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, visited Beirut to discuss the aid package. Von der Leyen emphasized that the aid distribution will begin this year and continue until 2027, focusing on supporting the most vulnerable populations, including refugees, internally displaced individuals, and host communities.

The EU assistance is contingent on Lebanon implementing necessary reforms and strengthening border control to prevent illegal crossings with Syria. This aid follows continued tensions on the southern front between Hezbollah and the Israeli military, highlighting the importance of stability in the region.

During their visit, the EU officials met with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to discuss Lebanon’s challenges and the need for reforms. Mikati expressed Lebanon’s struggle in hosting a large number of Syrian refugees, which has exacerbated the country’s economic crisis and strained resources.

Mikati called for international recognition that many areas in Syria are now safe for refugees to return, urging for a structured approach to voluntary repatriation. He emphasized the need to prevent Lebanon from becoming a transit country to Europe, highlighting the risks associated with unchecked migration.

Von der Leyen acknowledged Lebanon’s concerns and pledged support for socio-economic stability through investments in education, social protection, and health services. The EU aims to assist Lebanon in implementing economic and financial reforms to attract private sector investments and regain international trust.

The EU’s support program for the Lebanese military will focus on providing equipment, training, and infrastructure for border management. Von der Leyen stressed the importance of cooperation with Frontex, the EU’s border agency, to enhance information exchange and combat illegal migration.

Christodoulides highlighted the shared challenges faced by Lebanon and Cyprus, emphasizing the need for joint efforts to address border security, human trafficking, and counterterrorism. He called for collaboration with UNHCR to facilitate voluntary returns and reassess the situation in Syria.

Parliament Speaker Berri underscored Lebanon’s commitment to peace and adherence to UN Resolution 1701 despite ongoing Israeli aggression. He urged engagement with the Syrian government to address the refugee crisis and emphasized the importance of regional stability.

In conclusion, the EU’s aid package signifies a commitment to supporting Lebanon in addressing its pressing challenges and promoting stability in the region. By focusing on border control, reforms, and humanitarian assistance, the EU aims to alleviate the burden on vulnerable populations and strengthen Lebanon’s resilience in the face of complex geopolitical dynamics.

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