Scotland’s only voice on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Alyn Smith, acknowledged Lebanon’s struggle to shelter 1.1 million Syrian refugees, during a debate with the country’s prime minister in Brussels this week. The debate was followed by an announcement from the EU Commission of additional €180 million to deal with the effect of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon and Jordan.
Lebanon, a country of just over four million people, provides a safe haven during an unprecedented refugee crisis in the region and has maintained its open border policy, despite enormous pressure on its resources and services, including water, electricity and medical care.
“Prime minister, you’re very welcome on behalf of the Greens/EFA Group – you’re amongst friends in this committee. I’d very warmly echo the praise and recognition that your country very richly deserves for the safe haven you’ve provided for so many vulnerable people over the years. We do very much stand with you in that.”
During a debate with prime minister Tammam Salam, Alyn discussed the country’s need for further assistance as well as the urgent need to address the situation in Palestine.
“My question would be twofold. You’ve mentioned that there has been EU aid and our member states have allocated €3bn in aid for humanitarian purposes but beyond sending you money, there are hugely destabilising impacts for such a small country as yours providing such a safe haven. What else would you like to see, you must have a wider list.
“And given that in politics of the Middle East everything is connected to everything else, I very strongly echo your comments on Palestine and the Middle East peace process, which to my perspective is neither a peace nor a process – I don’t see that it merits that term.
“We in the EU have a bounden duty historically to not walk away from the people of Palestine and the wider region, given so many of the roots of the problems were actually caused by our own countries.
“In terms of recognition of Palestine, we’ve seen the vote of the Scottish Parliament and the Government, the UK also, Sweden recently. There is a vote in the next couple of hours about that in the French Parliament. What would be your assessment of the process, given that the momentum does seem to be finally building? What would you, speaking to a cross-party, cross country gathering of the members of the European Parliament, suggest the EU can do to reanimate a very stalled peace process within the Middle East?”
The prime minister responded, “since the outset of the Syrian crisis our hospitality and the welcoming nature of our people have become overstretched and overstressed”.
In terms of creating stability in the Middle East, the prime minister voiced the need for significant assistance from the EU. He also maintained that “the Palestine problem remains at the grass roots of frustration after years of negotiations, peace remains an elusive goal and Palestinians are still deprived of the basic and indisputable right to a sovereign state”.
A video of Alyn's question to the prime minister of Lebanon should display above, if not you can find it on Alyn's YouTube channel