Why we Should say NO to the Naturalization of Refugees by Marlene Sabeh

Why we Should say NO to the Naturalization of Refugees

The initial stance of the Government of Lebanon was clear on the refugee issue: It considered individuals who crossed Lebanese–Syrian borders since 2011 as “displaced”, emphasizing its long-standing position that Lebanon is not a state for refugees, refusing to establish camps, and adopting a policy paper to reduce their numbers since October 2014. However, when Lebanon initially opened its frontiers to Syrian families fleeing the conflict, communities of Lebanon complied with no hesitation. They supplied shelter, generous welcome, services, and support even though their own needs, in numerous instances, were already elevated. Today, after more than nine years, the government and Lebanese communities have arrived at a critical point: A severe stability test on the social, demographic, and economic impact of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon attained new peaks.

Furthermore, naturalizing 1.5 million Syrians and close to 500,000 Palestinians would translate into a critical imbalance in the unique sectarian composition of Lebanon and an anomaly in its well-adjusted societies. In an interview conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in April of 2017, (then) Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil deftly elucidated the threat of naturalizing this large number of refugees on Lebanon’s balanced society of Muslims and Christians. He affirmed that “in our constitution, the naturalization of people is forbidden, because we have the Palestinians, for whom we want the right of return, as well as the Syrians for whom they have to have the safe and dignified return, so we want Lebanon for the Lebanese”. However, when Lebanon rejected a U.N. proposal that all host countries provide the opportunity for refugees to apply for temporary citizenship, Bassil was faced with fierce criticism and accusations of “confessional” prejudice, while his efforts were primarily geared toward maintaining the true image of the Lebanese identity.

The (Naturalization) “Deal” would create an irreversible demographical detriment for Lebanon, constituting a severe blow to its cultural mesh and distinguished identity. As President Aoun called recently for the “displaced people to return to their country” and requested the repatriation clause to be included in the new government’s Policy Statement, we should stay united to stop the naturalization project and encourage the safe and dignified return of all refugees to their homeland. One “Nakba” was enough.

Marlene Sabeh


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