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The Internally Displaced Persons

 
Press Review

Interview with Mr. Marwan Hamadeh
Minister for the Displaced
February 2001

In February 2001, the Lebanese NGO Forum (LNF) has conducted this interview with Mr. Marwan Hamadeh, Minister for the Displaced, at headquarters.

Q (1): What was the state of the 'Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) file'?

* The 'Displaced file' was opened following the Taif agreement (1989). This agreement gave every Lebanese displaced the right to return to his hometown.
When nominated Minister for the Displaced, Deputy Walid Jumblatt launched the return process and made sure to keep it far from any political interference. Since then, all the successive and former governments, including the present one, have been trying to continue the implementation of the return program in its different aspects. Consequently, a return plan was prepared and sought not only to organize the return of the displaced to their towns and villages but also included the reconstruction and renovation of their houses. In addition, the plan also foresaw compensation payments for the second -generation of displaced families, to encourage the return of the youth. Finally, the plan comprised the restoration of religious sites, cemeteries and other projects related to the infrastructure of the villages of return.

The return program set two main objectives:

1- The reconciliation (In areas where wartime massacres took place)
Until the present moment, 60% of reconciliation initiatives have been completed, only 11 reconciliation cases are still under way and will be achieved in the coming six months or during the summer. Based on this, we could say that the political and technical aspects of the displaced file have been closed. We still hope that the problem of the squatted houses will resolved by the mid-March so that all illegally occupied properties will be recovered, in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.
2- The restoration and renovation (already completed)
Renovations in Beirut and the 'green line' (border line that divided Beirut in two parts - east and west - during the war) will require about 18 months because of the necessity to undertake evaluations of the losses and damages in order to establish estimates to compensate families. A specific law, issued last summer, stipulated that residents who had already renovated their houses at their own expenses would be entitled to compensations (known as 'completed renovation').

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Q (2): To what extent the Displaced file is subject to political interference?

* We do not deny that there was previously some political interference in the 'Displaced file'. However, today, there is a consensus between all the present political forces on the ground, and mainly between the President of the Republic and the government, on the necessity to exclude the displaced question from any political influence.
I personally want to assure that the ministry is on equal distance from the different political parties, determined to abide by the set deadlines and to close this file for good.
Also, we would like to remind that the first years during which we were in charge of the displaced file were not easy, due to the psychological sequels generated by the 17 years of violence.

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Q (3): How public participation contributed to the implementation of the return program?

* During 1998, the displaced committees were very active. After the 1998 elections the municipalities replaced these committees, except in the villages where the reconciliation process are still under way. Indeed in these villages, in addition to the role of the municipality, there is a committee of residents and returnees to facilitate the return of the displaced.
Also, lebanese NGOs have participated in this effort and collaborated with the United Nations and the European Union to strengthen the return process. These grassroot NGOs played a major role in facilitating the dialogue between local residents and returnees, organizing social and cultural activities, effectively creating a positive and favorable atmosphere encouraging (conflict-resolution) negotiations in many villages, as well as supporting health and environmental activities.
Private and public schools engaged in these local initiatives and contributed to the reconstruction of some villages.

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Q (4): How is the return program budget established?

* The budget has been set and determined within the framework of the government budget to which an additional appendix was added, to cover:
- the compensations for the second-generation of displaced persons,
- the 'completed renovations',
- the compensations for the 'second families' (second-generation of squatters to be evicted)
The return program needs around one thousand two hundred billions Lebanese pounds to cover all the expenses mentioned above. The implementation phase is expected to be completed by mid-2002.

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Q (5): What are the future prospects for the Displacement problem?

* The newly appointed Cabinet (October 26, 2000) has undertaken a series of procedures to speed up and achieve the return process: renting large spaces to accommodate engineer offices and to receive inquiries; developing an information network to manage thousands of new applications, buying new cars to speed up the ministry's and the Central Fund's technical assessments of the sites and finally allocating the necessary funds to cover these actions.
In addition to that, the new program has adopted a systematic approach, whereby each file will be completed and dealt with village by village and region by region, so that all the files will be closed according to a specific plan of action and a timetable. This plan of action will enable us to end the cases of displacement in the cazas (districts) of North Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, in a period of 3 months; and in Beirut and Mount Lebanon in a period of 18 months.

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Q (6): When will the return program be completed?

* The program is expected to be achieved in one year and a half. Having said that, the sequels of the 'Displaced file' will be purely on an engineering level and some other matters will remain pending, but there will be no need for the Ministry of the Displaced to exist anymore, except perhaps for the Engineering unit and the Central Fund.


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