Bassil Freezes UNHCR Residency Permits over Refugee Spat


Caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil on Friday ordered a freeze on the renewal of residency permits for the staff of the United Nations refugee agency, saying it is not encouraging Syrian refugees to return home.

Bassil said in a statement from his office that UNHCR is scaring Syrian refugees in Lebanon from returning by asking them about compulsory military service, security conditions and whether they have a place to live.

"Bassil asked for the study of other progressive measures... in the case that the UNHCR is determined to pursue the same policy," the statement said.

The statement said the measure by the ministry came after direct warnings by the ministry to UNHCR representative in Lebanon Mireille Girard who was summoned twice recently.

UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said the agency has so far not been formally informed about the decision and refused to comment until officially authorized.

Bassil's statement came amid reports that some 3,000 Syrians are getting ready to head back home later this month.

The minister late Thursday warned that Lebanon would start taking measures against the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees over allegations the agency was preventing Syrian refugees from returning home.

"We sent a mission that verified that the UNHCR is intimidating the displaced who wish to return voluntarily," he tweeted.

A UNHCR spokesperson responded by denying that the agency's staff were discouraging refugees from considering a return.

"We do not discourage or oppose returns taking place based on an individual decision," William Spindler told reporters.

"But in our view, conditions in Syria are not yet conducive for an assisted return, although the situation is changing and we are following closely," he said.

Lebanon has seen its water, electricity and waste removal infrastructure strained by the influx of Syrian refugees.

But international non-governmental organizations also say their presence has helped stimulate the economy.

In April, the UNHCR suggested that the government-organized return of 500 refugees was premature, explaining that it was not involved due to the prevailing humanitarian and security situation in Syria.

The world body's position infuriated Bassil, who warned Lebanon could "re-evaluate" the U.N. agency's work.

Lebanon is expected to soon have a new government after last month's parliamentary elections.

Syrian refugees are a recurring topic in Lebanon's political debate, but Bassil has taken a hard line and been the only leading politician directly attacking the U.N.

Syria's regime has retaken more than half of the country since Russia intervened in 2015 on its behalf.

The war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the violent repression of anti-government protests.

Comments 12
Thumb s.o.s 8 months

The UNHCR represents some 200 nations. Bassil is right, the entire world is wrong.

And this photograph is awesome, it speaks a thousand words. Brilliant selection! Thank you Naharnet.

Thumb janoubi 8 months

What is this totalitarian doing!!!

UNHCR will freeze the donations in tit for tat.

Thumb ___flamethrower___ 8 months

Never has Lebanon seen such a cool freezing Foreign Minister like this one, ever!

Thumb canadianleb 8 months

Ok let's all be honest here. What he is saying and doing is the right thing. Do keep in mind when he gets his commission cheque from the UNHCR he will change his tune....

Thumb eagledawn 8 months

"sophia_angle 2 hours ago
Lebanon is rising ...stay tuned! GMA time :)"

Thumb ex-fpm 8 months

UNHCR has a code of ethics and standards that apply everywhere it operates. Its services primarily focus on providing protection and assistance to refugees in addition to fund raising.

Bassil wants to apply his own standards and tell UNHCR how to handle refugees.

Thumb kayveman 8 months

Bassil exists because of Aoun. Aoun exists because of Nasrallah. Nasrallah exists because of our failure as free Lebanese to govern ourselves. We can't govern ourselves not because we're dumb but because we see sect affiliation as higher than that of the nation.

It always goes back to the same point. Let us become more Lebanese and the likes of Bassil and these other imbeciles will be gone for good.

Missing cimitero 8 months

Demagoguery at it's finest. He's trying to divert attention from his crooked citizenship deal.

Thumb natour 8 months

Never in the history of our country, has one short man, became so rich, in such a short time. If this nation lasts a thousand years, men will say, he was their most corrupt.

Thumb thepatriot 8 months


Thumb s.o.s 8 months

It’s his email’s password :)

Thumb thepatriot 8 months