Report: Bassil Escalates U.N. Refugee Staff Residency Permits Row
The Foreign Ministry has reportedly officially informed the UNHCR on Monday of caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil’s controversial decision to freeze residency permits for its staff, despite emphasis that relations with the U.N. are a jurisdiction of the prime minister, media reports said Tuesday.
Ministry sources told al-Akhbar daily that “there will be no negligence. We are also considering taking stricter measures shall the United Nations refugee agency fail to change its approach regarding the Syrian refugees file in Lebanon and stop discouraging them to return home.”
They stressed that “other decisions could follow in the coming days if it insists on following the same policy.”
On Friday, Bassil ordered a freeze on the renewal of residency permits for the UNHCR, saying it is intimidating Syrian refugees in Lebanon from returning by asking them about compulsory military service, security conditions and whether they have a place to live.
However, al-Mustaqbal Movement sources rejected in remarks to al-Joumhouria daily Bassil’s “approach with the UNHCR,” saying “it is not useful for national interest to make compulsory, uncalculated reactions that place Lebanon in a difficult situation.”
Earlier, reports said that Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has told Bassil that the relation with the U.N. is “part of his jurisdiction as a premier” and that he “cannot be bypassed” in this regard, after Bassil's decision sparked a storm of criticism.
Official sources following up on the Syrian refugee crisis said that Bassil, in his turn, told Hariri that he will not take further measures against the U.N. refugee agency.
Lebanon is home to more than a million Syrian refugees, or about a quarter of the country's population. Bassil's statement came amid reports that some 3,000 Syrians are getting ready to head back home later this month.
A Foreign Ministry statement said Bassil's measure came after direct warnings by the ministry to UNHCR representative in Lebanon Mireille Girard who was summoned twice recently.