Summit urges Syrian refugee return – Call to eradicate poverty to eliminate terror

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Amir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani pose for a picture with other Arab leaders and officials at the opening session of the Arab Development, Economic and Social Summit yesterday. – AFP

BEIRUT: Kuwait has launched an initiative to form a $200 million fund for investments in technology, Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah said yesterday. Addressing the Arab Development, Economic and Social Summit in Beirut, he cited economic cooperation as the Arab region’s “primary concern”. The Kuwaiti minister, who is HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s representative at the talks, described the initiative as a step towards embracing a digital economy.

He mentioned that HH the Amir created a fund to prop up small enterprises in the Arab region back in 2009, with Kuwait contributing a share of $500 million. The fund has helped save some 437,000 jobs in the region and financed more than 7,000 Arab development projects, which shows the Amir’s vision of investing in “valuable youth power”. Given their “intertwined fates”, he spoke of the “close rapport” that Arab nations have forged over the years, having held talks on a regular basis in a bid to attain prosperity and development. Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled renewed his appreciation and trust in the business agenda of the summit, thanking Lebanese president Michel Aoun for his hospitality and support.

The summit declaration later valued the significance of HH the Amir’s initiative in creating the fund to support technology and digital economy. It noted that the $200 million fund, with Kuwait and Qatar each contributing $50 million, is set to be handled by Kuwait-based Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.

Meanwhile, Arab states called on world powers to step up efforts to enable Syrian refugees to return home. The United Nations says that 5.6 million Syrian refugees live in five neighboring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq – and it is not yet safe for them to return. Since conflict broke out in Syria in 2011, more than 1 million people have fled across the border to Lebanon, where aid agencies say most live in extreme poverty.

Lebanese officials have called for refugees to go home after Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad reclaimed most of the country with Russian and Iranian help. “We call on the international community to take its responsibility to curb the misery,” Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said, reading a statement which the summit agreed. It asked for a doubling of efforts “to strengthen favorable conditions for the displaced and refugees to return in line with international law”.

Divisions among Arab states over Syria, and internal disputes in Lebanon, have overshadowed the summit even before it began, with several leaders staying away. A key point of contention has been whether to bring Syria back into the Arab League, more than seven years after its membership was suspended. Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has helped Assad’s military defeat rebels and militants, wants rapprochement with Damascus. Its critics oppose this, insisting the United Nations must oversee any repatriations.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, had called earlier at the summit for safe refugee returns “without tying that to reaching a political solution”. He also proposed the creation of an Arab bank for reconstruction and development “to help all affected Arab states overcome adversity and contribute to their sustainable economic growth”.

Under deals Hezbollah has helped to broker, tens of thousands of refugees have left Lebanon for Syria in the past year – a drop in the ocean compared with the scale of the refugee crisis. Rights groups have warned against forced returns while a Syrian peace deal remains elusive, and refugees often say they fear conscription into the army.

Lebanese leaders had hoped to reach a deal to form a new government before the summit after months of political gridlock. But talks have failed amid fears for the Lebanese economy. Several hundred people protested in the streets of Beirut yesterday, blaming politicians for growing economic troubles.

Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmad Abul-Gheit announced yesterday that speeding up the elimination of poverty is the optimal way to dry out the sources of terrorism and extremism. Speaking at the summit, he said 20 percent of the Arab population lives under poverty, indicating that the General Secretariat of the Arab League, in collaboration with the UN, has issued a report that includes an Arab strategy to eliminate poverty.

He believed that the Arab population includes large masses of youth who could pose burdens to their countries’ economies and become easy victims of religious and political extremism, unless they are correctly exploited. Abul-Gheit said economic growth is still insufficient to achieve the desired change because of the political and security circumstances in the past few years.

The summit declaration stressed the importance of continuing progress of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area hoping to reach a joint market and address all difficulties. The declaration announced the approval of a charter to develop small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and microenterprise to guarantee Arab economic integration in order to create a competitive environment that will contribute to terminating unemployment.

The Arab leaders meanwhile declared the approval of the Arab strategy for sustainable energy of 2030 to achieve sustainable development in economic, social and environmental dimensions. Arab leaders have stressed in the declaration on the importance of committing to the resolutions and programs that were adopted in the previous summits, affirming terrorism has negative impacts on Arab society.

They called for collaboration of efforts to defeat terrorism which led to the increase of refugees, in addition to unemployment, thus more focus was required to achieve UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030. The Beirut summit declaration affirmed that investing in humans is the fastest way to achieve economic growth, noting that one of the SDGs was decreasing poverty by 50 percent by 2030.
The declaration emphasized the importance of investing in potentials and encouraging creativity in order to build better and more productive human beings that will contribute to building a society compatible with sustainable development. Arab leader decided to hold the next Arab Economic and Social Summit in 2023 in Mauritania. – Agencies