Minister Chris Bowen to the Middle East Times Int’l: ”Lebanon and Australia Are Firm Friends”
Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Citizenship spoke to the Middle East Times Int’l about his recent visit to Lebanon, where he met and had productive discussion with various key leaders; President of Lebanon Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Mufti Rashid Kabbani, Sheikh Abdul Ameer Kabalan including other Ministers and Officials.
Mr. Bowen came away from Lebanon, impressed by Lebanon’s beauty, its ‘cosmopolitan and modern constructions’, but also its villages, and its people. Mr. Bowen was also touched by the Internal Security Forces and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in making Lebanon the better place it is today. He said, ‘the whole trip left a big impact on me’.
Other than the important meetings from the most senior people in the Government, Mr. Bowen visited many areas of Lebanon to gain a greater understanding of the Syrian and Palestinian refugees situation, Lebanon’s modern development, and issues to do with Australia’s immigration policies in relation to Lebanon. He met with both Syrian and Palestinian refugees, and feels they are in very difficult circumstances. The Syrian refugees, he says are, ‘very worried about the future of Syria’, and of their own personal future, adding that it gave meaning to Australia’s increased intake of Syrian refugees. Of the Palestinian refugees, Mr Bowen met individuals who were born in the refugee camps in Lebanon, and who had managed to get an education, but because of their status, cannot work. It was for Mr. Bowen a ‘very sobering visit’.
In terms of Australia’s immigration policies, the visit to Lebanon confirmed and cemented the Immigration Minister’s views about policy changes such as the multi entry Visa for parents and the aforementioned increase in Syrian refugee intake, but just as beneficial was the visit to Beirut to see the modern development of that city, and the visits to villages that have supplied so much immigration to Australia over the years.
Mr. Bowen added that visiting Lebanon reinforced, enhanced, and strengthened the friendship between Lebanon and Australia. It showed that even though Lebanon had gone through some difficult times, ‘its friends are there for them, and Australia is a very good friend of Lebanon’. Visiting Lebanon was important because it demonstrated solidarity between the nations, both in good and difficult times.
Other than the formal part of visiting Lebanon, Mr. Bowen will take away from his visit, the magnificent sites of the villages, the places of great beauty, and the welcome he received wherever he went. His message to the Australian Lebanese community is that both nations see how important the other is to each other. In Mr. Bowen’s view, if that was not the case, he would not have been able to meet so easily with the most senior figures in the Lebanese Government, and he would not have heard so much of our firm friendship with Lebanon wherever he went in Lebanon. Mr. Bowen felt it important to acknowledge Lebanon’s recent strong support of Australia’s promotion to the United Nations Security Council, saying that unlike some other nations, Lebanon supported Australia from the very beginning. He said, ‘we remember the people with us from the beginning, not just the people who came on when we already had lots of other votes .... Lebanon is one of those’.