Change and Reform bloc rejects Syrian refugee naturalization

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The Change and Reform parliamentary bloc Tuesday rejected the possibility of Syrian refugees becoming naturalized Lebanese citizens, calling on local and international officials to clarify their stances on the refugee crisis.

“We must not accept that these refugees, who were forced to leave Syria, to choose between their country and another country,” former Minister Salim Jreissati said after the bloc’s weekly meeting.

“You let 1.5 million Syrian refugees into Lebanon and accused the Free Patriotic Movement (leading party of the bloc) of racism when it voiced concerns over the influx, and now you are looking for ways to address the issue,” he continued.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who heads the FPM, accused the international community of approaching the Syrian refugee crisis with a double standard, hours after U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon departed Beirut following a two-day visit.

Bassil pointed out inconsistencies in some foreign countries' approach to the crisis, who continue to back Syria's armed insurrection and call on Lebanon to put human rights first when dealing with refugees. He noted that many of those states were removing refugees by force – a move Lebanon has not yet made.

“Tell us clearly, do you want the naturalization (of refugees)?” asked Jreissati.

The U.N. has estimated the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon at about 1.5 million, in addition to nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees.

Many Lebanese officials have voiced fears of naturalizing the refugees, or keeping them in the country for a long time, a scenario similar to the Palestinian refugees, who have had a presence in Lebanon since the 1948 creation of Israel.

Jreissati also said that the FPM will boycott Parliament’s sessions until the National Charter is respected, in regards to fair Christian and Muslim representation in the state.

“In light of the deteriorating developments in regard to the unfair (Christian-Muslim) balance, there will be no sessions before we are given our rights,” he said.

The FPM has long complained of Christian political marginalization, accusing rival parties of deliberately trying to keep Christians out of the state’s vital institutions and devalue their votes during legislative elections.

With the exception of two extraordinary sessions held in November last year, the Parliament’s General Assembly has not met since November 2014, when MPs – except the FPM’s lawmakers – extended their own mandate for a second time.

Jreissati said his party was prepared for the municipal elections set to take place in May, and that “understandings” were in full swing, in reference to unanimous votes during the polls or compromises instead of electoral battles.

The FPM and its former rival the Lebanese Forces have said that they will be allied in the elections, forming a historical breakthrough in relations between the two Christian parties.

LF head Samir Geagea and FPM’s former leader Michel Aoun held a landmark reconciliation ceremony in January at the former’s Maarab residence, where he announced his nomination for Aoun for the presidency.

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