In an attempt to draw European support for Lebanon as it grapples with financial unease, Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raed threatened the bloc with the sensitive issue of Syrian refugees.
“All we have to do is wave the card of Syrian refugees and all the European countries will kneel before us,” Raed said Tuesday, mirroring the comments of Turkish President Recep Erdogan who threatened to reopen the route for refugees and migrants into Europe if he does not receive adequate international support.
Lebanon has been reeling under the burden of a protracted Syrian refugee crisis since 2011, which reached 1.5 million displaced persons at its climax, straining the country’s deteriorating infrastructure and further aggravating an already weakened economy.
Lebanon currently has the highest concentration of refugees per capita in the world – 1 million amid a Lebanese population of nearly 5 million according to estimates.
“They [Europe] could not receive 10,000 refugees and yet they want us to take in 1.5 million,” Raed said.
Lebanon is facing an austerity plagued year as it deals with soaring public debt, estimated at around 150 percent of GDP, coupled with a massive budget deficit and high unemployment.
Demonstrations have increased in recent weeks, as disgruntled citizens vent their frustrations with the government.
Throughout the year, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has led the campaign calling for the return of refugees, often using nationalist language, while rallying international assistance for Lebanon.
The government has also intervened, shutting down shops owned by or employing Syrians without permits and ordering the demolition of anything in refugee camps that could be a permanent home.
Last year, Lebanon secured $11 billion in soft loans and grants to revamp its infrastructure but the funds have yet to see the light of day as it fails to meet the requisite conditions, including slashing its deficit to around five percent of GDP.