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Arab economic summit in Beirut urges approach to Syrian refugee crisis – Xinhua

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LEBANON-BEIRUT-ARAB ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT SUMMIT-CONCLUSION

Arab League (AL) Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit speaks at a press conference after the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, in Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 20, 2019. Arab leaders and officials on Sunday urged the international community to support nations hosting Syrian refugees and take steps to minimize the impact of the refugee crisis. The call was made in the Beirut Declaration issued as the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit concluded in the Lebanese capital. (Xinhua/Li Liangyong)

BEIRUT, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) — Arab leaders and officials on Sunday urged the international community to support nations hosting Syrian refugees and take steps to minimize the impact of the refugee crisis.

The call was made in the Beirut Declaration issued as the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit concluded in the Lebanese capital.

“We call on the international community to support Arab countries hosting Syrian refugees and take steps to stop the economic repercussion of the refugee crisis,” said the declaration.

The refugee crisis in Arab countries is the worst humanitarian problem since World War II, the declaration said, noting that the crisis leads to an economic slowdown, increases the expenditure and deficit, imposes burdens on public sectors and infrastructure and poses risks to the society.

Arab leaders called on the world to shoulder its responsibilities to minimize the impact of the refugee crisis and double efforts to encourage and facilitate the return of refugees to their homeland.

This is the first time Arab countries have reached a consensus on encouraging Syrian refugees to return to their country, according to Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil at the press conference after the summit.

Arab states also called upon through the declaration donor nations to fulfill their promises to offer financial support to nations hosting refugees.

At the opening session of the summit, Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for the world to step up efforts for Syrian refugees to return home.

“Lebanon calls on the international community to exert every possible effort and to ensure the suitable conditions for the safe return of the displaced Syrians to their country, particularly to the accessible stable regions or the de-escalation zones, without linking this return to the political solution,” Aoun said.

Lebanon has been shouldering for years the “heaviest burden” of the displacement of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, who make up about half the Lebanese population with inadequate resources, he added.

Since conflict broke out in Syria in 2011, more than 1 million people have fled across the border to Lebanon.

The United Nations says conditions are not yet ready for their safe return.

The fourth Arab Economic and Social Development Summit on Sunday kicked off in Beirut.

Although at least eight heads of states were expected here, only the Qatari emir and Mauritanian president joined the event. But Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani arrived shortly before the summit and left minutes after it began.

The other participating countries sent their second-level and third-level ministerial delegations.

Rifts among Arab states over the absence of Syria and Libya have overshadowed the Beirut summit.

Syria is not invited to the summit organized by the Arab League (AL) as its AL membership was suspended in November 2011 through the rising casualties in the violent clashes during anti-government protests.

Ahead of the summit, Bassil openly called on AL to re-admit Syria while Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, secretary-general of AL, said AL member states have not reached a consensus on Syria’s return to the 22-member bloc.

Libya’s seat was also empty as it protests against the summit after supporters of the Lebanese Amal Movement tore the Libyan flag in Beirut.

The Arab economic summit, held at the head-of-state level to address issues of economic and social development among member states, is a prelude to the AL summit scheduled for March in Tunisia.

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