By Middle East Affairs
Come Friday, Lebanon will be taking measures against the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR according to Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Bassil announced that he has frozen residency applications of the United Nations’ refugee agency staff.
Lebanon is keen to get Syrian refugees out of its borders, while the UNHCR has repeatedly stated that conditions inside the country are not safe for citizens to return home. Bassil finds this unfavorable and has accused the UNHCR of “intimidating” refugees from going back.
As Assad finds more support from Russia and continues to take back more opposition areas, Lebanon’s president among other politicians including Assad are telling refugees to go back to Syria and return to normalcy. A deal to end the war has not been reached, and it’s too early to say when or if such a deal is possible. The international community at large agrees that Syria with its frequent fighting is not safe to harbor the return of millions of its citizens.
Since the war began in 2001, Lebanon has absorbed about a quarter of Syrian refugees that fled for their lives, the U.N. reports 1 million registered, while the Lebanese government estimates 1.5 million Syrians inside its borders. Since the influx of refugees, public services have been strained, and the economy has been slow to grow.
Bassil said in a speech published to his Twitter, “Our procedures against UNHCR begin tomorrow, and they will escalate to the maximum extent that sovereign Lebanon can achieve toward an organization which acts against (Lebanon’s) policy of preventing naturalization and returning the displaced to their homeland.”
Major General Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security agency last week said that his government was working with Syria’s government to return the thousands of Syrians who want to go back.
This week a Lebanese mayor of a border town said that 3,000 of its tens of thousands of Syrian refugees will return back to Syria in the next week.
Bassil speaking against the UNHCR and blaming the international community said, “Today we sent a mission which verified that UNHCR is intimidating the displaced people who wish to return voluntarily.”
His speech continued to say, “Our affection for (the displaced Syrians) says that the time has come for returns since conditions are safe. We announce our determination to break the international desire to prevent the return of the displaced.”
Lebanon held elections on May 6, which elected Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri who has not yet formed a government leading Bassil to become a caretaker minister until the new government is formed.