Translated by: Sailer Perkins
The Union of Local Councils of Syria’s Western Al-Qalamoon area issued a statement on 7 August from Arsal, a Lebanese border town near Syria, stating their refusal of all pressures exerted to force their return to villages and towns under the control of the Syrian regime and foreign militias.
The signatories of the statement, who fled to Lebanon from Syria, affirmed their rights as refugees to assurances of protection and care from international and humanitarian organizations, as well as the Lebanese state itself. They stressed that their return to their towns should be a dignified one, under the protection of the UN and with international guarantees of safety.
In the statement, the signatories aimed their demands at the interim Syrian government and the High Negotiations Committee to bear their responsibilities to the people of Al-Qalamoon, by ensuring a safe place for them to live in freedom, dignity, and security.
The signatories stressed their demand on the Lebanese government, which complains of the burden of Syrian refugees, to contribute to the solution of their crisis by compelling a “key component of the Lebanese government” to leave Syria. This key player, Hezbollah, was a principle reason of the displacement of the people of al-Qalamoon.
Hezbollah, which aligns with the Syrian regime, has contributed to the regime’s goals militarily in battles against opposition factions.
The statement demanded that the Lebanese government, for its part, call the UN and all nations friendly to Lebanon and the Syrian people to set up a necessary safe area in al-Qalamoon. In doing so, they would create an opportunity for the refugees’ dignified return with international protection and care.
In regards to the statement, president of the local council for the Syrian town of Flitah, Abu Najem, said to “The Syrian Voice” that “what the Local Council Union issued represents the opinion of Syrians in Arsal [Lebanon], and it comes from the civilian activism, organizations, and the people themselves currently located in Arsal.”
Abu Najem emphasized that the Union of Local Councils is a conglomeration headquartered in Arsal that brings together the councils representing the displaced towns and villages from Al-Qalamoon. He indicated that the Union held a number of meetings with the Lebanese government at various events and discussed the conditions of the Syrian refugees in Arsal.
Another member of the Union, who refused to give his name, clarified to “The Syrian Voice” that “the announcement doesn’t mean a refusal to return to the Syrian villages [completely], but it is a refusal to return under the conditions of the Syrian government and Hezbollah.” He emphasized that the signatories of the statement stipulated their return on the provision of international guarantees.
The Union’s statement comes following the return of thousands of Syrian refugees from Arsal’s camps to the Idlib province, which falls under the Syrian opposition’s control, at the end of July.
These refugees returned after the rebel group Tahrir as-Sham and Hezbollah struck an agreement in July. The agreement provided for a cessation of combat operations around Arsal and the expulsion of Tahrir as-Sham fighters back to Syria, along with their light arms, their families, and any Syrian refugees who desired to return with them to northern Syria.
The UN and its institutions have so far been absent from the refugee return process in this case, and were not involved with the agreement. In a conversation with “The Syrian Voice,” media source Ahmad al-Qasir indicated that this absence was likely due to the fact that both parties of the agreement are listed as terrorist organizations.
A copy of the Union of Local Councils statement in Arabic