Syrian minister says ‘doors open’ for return of refugees from Lebanon

DAMASCUS, Syria — A Syrian Cabinet minister says that Syrian refugees in neighboring Lebanon can start returning home, where he says they will get all the help they need from authorities.

Tiny Lebanon is home to 1 million Syrian refugees who fled war in their country after the conflict began in March 2011. The large number of refugees in the small Mediterranean nation makes it one of the highest per capita host countries of refugees in the world.

Minister of Local Administration Hussein Makhlouf makes his comments during a meeting in Syria’s capital Damascus with Issam Charafeddine, Lebanon’s caretaker minister of the displaced.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and rights groups oppose involuntary repatriation to Syria and say the practice risks endangering the returning refugees.

“The doors are open for the return of Syrian refugees,” Makhlouf says, adding that the state is ready to assist returnees and give them all that they need.

Makhlouf says that includes shelters for those whose homes were destroyed during the conflict that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the pre-war population of 23 million.

More than 5 million Syrians are refugees, most of them in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

Few Syrian refugees have returned home since President Bashar Assad’s forces got much of the country under their control over the past few years with the help of allies Russia and Iran.

The calls for the return of Syrian refugees to their country have increased in Lebanon since the small nation’s economic meltdown began. The downturn has left three-quarters of Lebanese living in poverty. For Syrians, living conditions have become worse since the economic crisis began in October 2019.

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