Lebanon's foreign minister blames downtrodden economy on Syrian refugees
Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil courted controversy again on Monday when he blamed the country's downtrodden economy on the Syrian refugees.
In comments made at a joint news conference with Sigrid Kaag, the Netherlands' foreign trade and development cooperation minister.
Bassil said the "economic situation in Lebanon is about to deteriorate due to the presence of large numbers of Syrian refugees" and called for a solution to the crisis.
Former MP Walid Jumblatt has slammed Bassil's comments, describing them as "cheap" and "racist".
Bassil, the Christian-dominated Free Patriotic Movement leader, previously courted controversy when he said Syrian refugees are "demanding the acceleration of their return [to Syria]" and that he would fight any policies of resettling refugees inside Lebanon.
In what appeared to be a response to Bassil's comments, veteran politician Jumblatt took to the social media platform Twitter and posted a scathing attack on Bassil.
"Enough fooling the people that the Lebanese economy is on the verge of collapse as a result of the Syrians. Stop that cheap, racist [talk]."
This is not the first time Bassil has been called out on his racism. Last month the Foreign Minister warned of "retaliatory measures" against the UNHCR, after the agency stated that the situation in Syria was still too dangerous for refugees to return to.
These new measures included freezing residency permits for aid workers after Bassil claimed they were "intimidating" refugees wanting to return home to Syria.
Bassil is part of a pro-Damascus wing of Lebanese politics led by Hizballah - which sympathises with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and Iran.
Many politicians have spoken out against the mostly Sunni Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon following intense regime bombing since 2011, and urged them to return to "safe" areas of the war-torn country.
Around 1.1 million Syrian refugees live in Lebanon, although Beirut puts the number at 1.5 million and said it is unable afford hosting the population.A strong anti-refugee backlash has also gripped some sections of Lebanese society and there has been pressure on Syrian refugees to leave Lebanon.