ZOUK MOSBEH — Dozens of supporters turned out recently in this coastal town north of Beirut to inaugurate a new political party, the Lebanese Party of Hope, which advocates the expulsion of an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees currently in Lebanon.
The Beirut-based daily L'Orient-Le Jour reports that the question of what will happen to the refugees once the Syrian civil war draws to a close is a deeply divisive topic in Lebanese politics. Some parties are pushing for a voluntary repatriation led by the refugees themselves, while others prefer the involvement of security forces.
The Party of Hope is demanding immediate negotiations with the Syrian government to repatriate all of the displaced. "The government must block Syrians from entering and must re-establish control over our borders, revoke the refugee status of Syrian refugees who cross the border and seek more international aid to deal with the situation," party leader Farès Ftouhi told L'Orient-Le Jour.
We aren't against Syrians, we are for them.
Lebanese parties that oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refuse to talk to him, as any negotiation is perceived as legitimizing his regime. The Lebanese government has distanced itself from Assad since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, a choice decried by the Shia Lebanese militia Hezbollah, a staunch ally of Damascus.
The Party of Hope warns that delaying the issue further could lead to a back-door naturalization of Syrian refugees, though that is unconstitutional. Granting Lebanese citizenship to millions of predominantly Sunni Muslim Syrians would upend Lebanon's political landscape, in which religion determines everything from the presidency to the number of seats a party wins in parliament.
"We aren't against Syrians, we are for them," said Ftouhi. "We support their secure and orderly return to Syria."
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