UN refugee chief rebuffs Trump’s safe zones for Syria

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, has expressed doubts about President Donald Trumps’ plan to establish safe zones for refugees in Syria.

“Frankly, I don’t see in Syria the conditions,” the UNHCR chief said at a news conference in Beirut. “With the fragmentation, the number of actors, the presence of terrorist groups, it’s not the right place to think of that solution.”

Grandi said planning safe zones is to “waste time” since they will neither bring safety nor make people return. “Let’s concentrate on making peace so that everything becomes safe. That should be the investment.”

Lebanese President Michel Aoun expressed his support for safe zones in Syria earlier in a meeting with Grandi on Friday.

Lebanon, a country with a population of less than 6 million, has received over one million Syrian refugees since 2011.

US President Donald Trump is trying to collect support from rebel backers in Syria. Qatar has endorsed the plan while Turkey, hosting nearly 3 million Syrians, wants to review the proposal before giving a judgement. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman as well as Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed Al Nahayan expressed their agreement with the safe zone plan.

Jordanian King Abdullah II, whose country hosts some 650,000 Syrian refugees, visited Washington on Thursday to discuss safe zones.

Trump said last week he would “absolutely do safe zones in Syria” and that Europe had made a mistake by admitting millions of refugees.

The UN refugee chief, who has just returned from a visit to Syria, said the refugees “should be embraced, they should be received with solidarity and generosity, not identified as carriers of risk, of threat, they are not. These are people that flee from danger, they are not dangerous themselves.”