Lebanon’s foreign minister warned Thursday that political turmoil in his country sparked by the crisis involving Saudi Arabia could impact Europe by creating new waves of refugees. The top diplomat, Gebran Bassil, was in Berlin as part of a European tour to rally support following the November 4 shock resignation of the prime minister, Saad Hariri, while in Riyadh.
The move has sparked speculation Hariri is being detained by his long-time sponsor Saudi Arabia amid its bitter standoff with regional rival Iran, heightening fears about instability and conflict in Lebanon. Bassil, speaking in a joint press conference with his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel, warned that the destabilization of Lebanon would have “direct consequences” for Europe.
Syrian and other refugees as well as Lebanese citizens “would be plunged into a more fragile situation, which may lead them to turn to Europe, to seek the path to Europe,” he said, according to the German translation. This could “cause a wider destabilization, just as happened in Syria, which also impacted Germany and Europe,” Bassil said.
Gabriel, whose country has taken in over one million mostly Middle Eastern and African asylum seekers since 2015, stressed that Lebanon had assumed “an incredible burden” by hosting some 1.5 million refugees. Hariri’s resignation has been widely seen as forced upon him by Saudi officials intent on protesting Iranian “domination” of Lebanon via their proxy Hezbollah, which also supports Saudi Arabia’s foes in Syria.
Hariri has insisted he is free to move and will soon return to Lebanon, but has shown little sign yet that he will be coming back soon. French President Emmanuel Macron has invited him to Paris, and Saudi Arabia has insisted Hariri is free to go. Gabriel said he shared the concern about the threat of instability and bloodshed in Lebanon and, without mentioning Saudi Arabia directly, warned against the “adventurism” behind the Lebanon crisis and the “human tragedy in Yemen”.