Syrian refugees walk through flood water and mud at an informal tent settlement following winter storms in Lebanon's central Bekaa Valley on January 17. Photo: AFP

Lebanon urged the international community to step up efforts to help Syrian refugees return to their homeland regardless of whether a political solution to the conflict ravaging its neighbor is found, as it hosted an Arab summit on Sunday.

It also proposed the establishment of an Arab bank to finance reconstruction in Arab countries devastated by conflicts such as Syria and Yemen.

President Michel Aoun made the calls at the opening of the fourth annual Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut, at which most Arab heads of state were conspicuously absent.

“Lebanon calls on the international community to make all efforts possible and provide suitable conditions for a safe return of displaced Syrians… without linking that to a political solution,” Aoun said.

There are currently 5.6 million Syrian refugees living in the region, including around one million born into displacement, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Lebanon hosts some 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the civil war raging across the border.

Most live in extreme poverty, according to aid agencies, and have placed an extra burden on Lebanon’s fragile economy.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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