"The cost of the Syrian refugee crisis overwhelms the country’s ability to address it. The international community has turned a deaf ear [to Lebanon’s calls to resolve the issue], and did not pay any attention to its consequences that might affect our country. … If it had fulfilled its obligations, we would not have reached that awful state of affairs," Aoun said.
The president has noted that the global community continues to put pressure on Lebanon to bear the crisis’ burden even though the country has been facing a deteriorating economic situation.
"We have recently come to an unprecedented economic and financial crisis in our history. One of the main reasons for it is that Lebanon has incurred costs totaling almost $30 billion as a result of the presence of over 1.5 million of Syrian refugees on our soil, according to the International Monetary Fund," the president noted.
According to Aoun, the ongoing crisis in Lebanon has been exacerbated by the spread of the coronavirus disease, and the government must now adopt financial reforms to help both Syrians and the country’s citizens who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
In early April, Aoun said that Lebanon had already spent around $25 billion on handling the influx of migrants and refugees, calling on the global community to provide financial support.
Lebanon has long been suffering from an acute economic crisis, with its national currency plunging against the US dollar and causing prices of bread and other necessities to soar. This prompted nationwide protests in October that unseated the previous government. No particular relief followed as the COVID-19 outbreak added to economic woes by putting businesses on hold and people out of jobs.
On Thursday, the Lebanese authorities endorsed an economic plan to put the country back on track toward "real reforms" and tackle the worsening financial crisis accompanied by nationwide anti-government protests that the country has been facing since October.
Return of Syrian Refugees
Aoun believes that the return of Syrian refugees home from Lebanon depended on an international decision rather than on his possible visit to Damascus, adding that Beirut had been in contact with Moscow on the refugees’ issue in hope that this partnership would alter a viewpoint of the global community on the matter.
"We are convinced that the return of [Syrian] refugees to their country is related to an international decision, and it does not depend on my possible visit to Syria. The global community acts out of malice in regard to this issue. It wants to keep [the refugees] in countries neighboring Syria, even if the crisis leads to a social, security and economic collapse [there], like in Lebanon, and does not to want to share the refugee burden with these countries despite the enormous potential of Europe and the United States," Aoun said.
According to the president, Lebanon maintains contact with Russia on the issue of the displaced Syrians, hoping that this cooperation will help to change an international position and find a comprehensive political solution to the Syrian crisis.
"We are in contact with Russia on the matter, especially after an initiative that [Moscow] has put forward to facilitate the refugees’ return to their country. Unfortunately, this proposal has faced international obstacles that prevented it from being implemented, and, as a result, the situation in Lebanon has deteriorated. We hope that similarities in [our] views will change the community’s will to keep the displaced in the countries where they have found refuge and find a comprehensive solution to the crisis in Syria," the president said.
According to various media reports, Aoun planned to pay an official visit to Damascus in last September to accelerate the process of the Syrian refugees’ return, but no dates or further information on a meeting between leaders of the two Middle Eastern countries followed. Aoun’s last visit to Syria was in 2008.
Medical, Financial Aid to Curb Coronavirus
Lebanon is in dire need of the financial and medical help from the international community, including Russia, Aoun said.
"We do not know exactly how long our fight against the [coronavirus] crisis will last. We need health and financial support at the international level because of a disastrous impact of the epidemic on Lebanon’s production and labour sectors, and we hope that our voice will reach the friendly country of Russia," he said. "We fully understand that Lebanon needs support from its allies and friends at the stage of the recovery [of the country's economy]. Everyone is awaiting [the implementation] of the government’s plan. Russia, as a great country and Lebanon’s historical friend, can participate in a lot of initiatives to support the revival plan approved by the council of ministers," Aoun said, adding that Lebanon was ready for any help from Russia be it deposits or loans.
According to the president, Beirut's channels of cooperation with Moscow were open, and Russian officials were fully aware of difficulties Lebanon was facing.
"I am sure that they [Russia] will soon make an appropriate decision related to the assistance to Lebanon," Aoun said.
The president noted that the COVID-19 crisis has been under control so far, due to the country’s efforts and the government’s coronavirus response plan, which was hailed by the World Health Organisation.
"We are open to any possible aid in combating the pandemic, especially in providing our health sector with PCR tests [for detecting the virus], which will allow us to conduct spot tests as many as possible," Aoun said.
As of Monday, Lebanon has registered 737 coronavirus cases, with 25 fatalities and 200 recoveries.