UNHCR Asks Lebanon to Review Decision to Suspend Visas for Its Employees

UNHCR Asks Lebanon to Review Decision to Suspend Visas for Its Employees

Wednesday, 13 June, 2018 - 08:15
Syrian refugee children collect plastics as they stand along a street in south of Sidon, southern Lebanon June 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
Beirut- Caroline Akoum
The UNHCR called on Lebanon to reverse its decision to freeze the residency applications of its staff, while the foreign ministry stressed that it would maintain the measure until the agency changed its policy of discouraging Syrian refugees to return to their homeland.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil ordered the freeze last week after accusing UNHCR of hindering the return of refugees to Syria by “spreading fear”.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Hadi al-Hashem, director of the foreign minister’s office, noted that the measures would continue “until UNHCR takes practical steps to achieve the return of displaced persons,” rejecting attempts to keep refugees in Lebanon in return for international aid.

The most important steps that UNHCR can take are “not to warn the refugees against returning to their country and to sit down with the Lebanese authorities to discuss the plan required to return,” according to Hashem.

In a letter to UNHCR, the ministry gave the agency two weeks to develop a plan for the return of the displaced.

Asked about the foreign minister’s insistence on his move, despite the rejection of Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri of the decision, which he described as unilateral, as confirmed by the latter’s advisor, Nadim al-Munla, Hashem said: “The actions carried out by Minister Bassil are within his powers, even in the phase of caretaking, such decisions can be made if necessary.”

He pointed out that the decision to stop residency applications has so far included two foreigners to be appointed as heads of sections by the agency.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea said on Tuesday that the refugees’ return to their homeland was not a kind of normalization of relations with the Syrian regime.

“Lebanon has borne the presence of more than a million Syrian refugees for seven years and we are unable to shoulder this burden anymore,” Geagea said in an interview with the German Media Agency (DPA).

He added that the return of Syrian refugees required a Lebanese sovereign decision, in coordination with the refugees and the concerned international bodies, noting that any coordination with the Syrian regime would hinder the return of these refugees.

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