Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Wednesday said that the authority has opened the door for more than one million Syrian refugees to obtain a permanent residency in return for buying apartments in Lebanon, instead of finding ways to return them to their homeland or resettle them in other countries.
"By approving the Article 50 of the budget, the authority has paved the way for thousands of Syrians who have the financial capabilities to buy an apartment to get the permanent Lebanese residency and, consequently, stay in Lebanon along with their families," Gemayel warned in a meeting with journalists at the Kataeb's headquarter in Saifi.
"We consider this to be an indirect step towards the naturalization of Syrian refugees."
"When I cautioned against this clause during the latest Parliament session, I was confronted by the economy minister who argued that this is done in many countries around the world, such as in Cyprus," Gemayel recounted. "Yes, this is true. But, let's keep in mind that there are no 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Cyprus."
"When I was also told that this clause concerns all foreigners, including Americans and Europeans, I replied that there will be no foreign nationals who would seek to come and live in Lebanon. After all, the ones who will come to settle here will be people who live in more miserable conditions than us, notably the Syrians."
"Practically and logically, people who will seek a permanent residency in Lebanon are the ones who cannot return to their countries," he noted.
Gemayel said that the Finance and Budget parliamentary committee had decreased the starting apartment prices that are requested so that the buyer would get the permanent residency, thus lowering them from $1 million to $500,000 in areas located within Beirut and from $500,000 to $330,000 elsewhere.
"The quota set for the acquisition of real estate by foreigners has been already surpassed," he pointed out.
The Kataeb chief ridiculed attempts to distract attention from the clause, noting that the article number has been changed from 50 to 49 after omitting a previous clause from the budget law.
Gemayel blasted the "stealthy" amendments that have been introduced into the clause without being approved by the Parliament, deeming this act as unprecedented.
"MP Ibrahim Kanaan is defending this article after introducing amendments that only he had read given that the Parliament did not vote on any amended version," he said.
The amended version of the clause, according to Gemayel, now stipulates that foreign buyers would get a "temporary" residency, with a validity that extends throughout the ownership period.
"This is absurd! Anyone can buy an apartment and keep it for life. That would mean that the buyer would practically have a permanent residency because he will most likely keep owning the apartment he bought."
"A temporary residency should be given for a definite period of time. By linking it to the ownership period, it becomes a permanent residency."
"What did they change through this amendment?" Gemayel asked. "Nothing has changed as Syrian refugees would still get a Lebanese residency just by acquiring an apartment."
"The government is unashamedly fooling the Lebanese people!"
"Lawmakers have not been called to convene again and vote on this amended clause. We, the lawmakers, are now awaiting the version that will be published in the official Gazette, just like the people. This is unbelievable!"
Gemayel suggested that the journalists and reporters who were attending the closed Parliament session be asked if any amendments were discussed or voted.
The Kataeb chief dismissed claims that the authority is seeking to boost the real estate sector in Lebanon, saying that this is not done by making it much easier for foreigners to settle in Lebanon while the Lebanese themselves are now finding it very hard to buy apartments in their own country.
"The real estate sector is revitalized by boosting economic growth, creating jobs and increasing the people's purchasing power, not by altering the country's identity."
He also brushed aside claims that granting a permanent residency does not mean giving citizenship, noting that, everywhere around the world, one becomes entitled to apply for a country's nationality after a certain period of holding a residency.
"Lebanon has already did its part when it comes to taking in refugees. Since 2011, Lebanon has been bearing a burden that no other country could handle. It is now time that a new, bold authority emerges to say 'enough'."
He explained that all economic refugees, i.e. people who emigrate from one country to another to seek an improvement in living standards, must be repatriated, noting that all surveys show that 60% of Syrians in Lebanon are categorized as economic refugees who hail from stable regions inside Syria.
Gemayel said that the political group which claimed to be defending the country against the refugee influx and demanded that they would be returned to Syria is the same one that is promoting this controversial clause today.
"I call on President Michel Aoun to refer the budget law back to the Parliament because it contains major constitutional violations."
He also criticized the reckless and thoughtless approach in dealing with the country's economic problems, saying that the public debt must be reduced by applying reforms and cutting superfluous expenses (random employment in the public sector, the electricity sector's deficit, tax evasion, unnecessary rentals, etc), not by hiking the interest rates on bank housing loans and tightening conditions.
Gemayel stressed that he has always based his stances on facts, not slogans, calling on PM Saad Hariri to work on solving the country's tremendous problems instead of constantly attacking the Kataeb party.
Gemayel revealed that certain banks are interferring in the elections, saying that they are funding the campaigns of some candidates who are affiliated to the ruling authority.
Finally, the Kataeb leader warned that the power barges deal will be confronted in the street if the government approves it, affirming that the party will be using all its power to face this shady project.