Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil (R) and visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles hold a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 3, 2019. Lebanese officials on Friday called upon Spain to help Lebanon in changing the European Union's position to support the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. (Xinhua/Bilal Jawich)
BEIRUT, May 3 (Xinhua) -- Lebanese officials on Friday called upon Spain to help Lebanon in changing the European Union's position to support the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland, local TV Channel OTV reported.
"Lebanon looks forward to a change in the European position regarding the return of Syrian refugees to Syria and to facilitate it under the international community's support," Lebanese President Michel Aoun told Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles, who arrived in Lebanon Thursday night for an official visit.
The Spanish foreign minister also met with Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri and his Lebanese counterpart Gebran Bassil.
Bassil emphasized the need to secure the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland.
"Lebanon has an unemployment rate of 30 percent and an economic growth rate of less than 1 percent. Lebanon cannot take any more losses due to the presence of a big number of refugees on its territories," Bassil said.
For his part, Borrell said that the EU appreciates Lebanon for hosting Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011.
"We are highly aware that the problem facing Lebanon is not only economic. We also want to see Syrian refugees returning to their homeland as soon as possible," he said.
Borrell said that Spain is in favor of helping the Syrian refugees who are willing to return home.
However, the minister added Spain can only work on accelerating this return within the framework of the EU.
The EU previously stated its support for individual refugee returns on a voluntary basis, but said it wants to see a political solution to the Syrian crisis before mass returns take place.
The two foreign ministers also spoke of the measures that should be taken to boost bilateral economic cooperation.
"We have a trade imbalance that is in favor of Spain. We hope that Spain would open its markets to allow the flexible entry of Lebanese products," Bassil said.
The two sides also stressed the importance of the direct flights that have started recently between Beirut and Madrid.
"This measure will surely boost relations further," Bassil said.
Meanwhile, Borrell said that Spain is keen on preserving Lebanon's security on its borders.