Bassil Says to End or Up Anti-UNHCR Measures Depending on 'Its Policy'
Caretaker Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil announced Thursday that he might reverse the measures that he recently announced against the U.N. refugee agency should it change its approach towards Lebanon's refugee crisis.
“I'm willing to lift the Foreign Ministry's measures against UNHCR if I see a change in its policy and I'm ready to increase them should there be no change,” Bassil announced after talks in Geneva with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
Bassil added that he advised the U.N. agency not to “bet on a dispute among the Lebanese on this issue.”
“Preventing the early return of refugees to their country is a rejected policy and we're not asking the agency to encourage Syrians to return; we're rather asking it not to scare them of returning,” the minister explained.
And calling for “encouraging a secure and dignified refugee return,” Bassil stressed that Lebanon “is not seeking a problem with UNHCR or the U.N.”
UNHCR had on Tuesday urged Bassil to reverse a decision to block residency permits for its international staffers following a spat over Syrians displaced by the war.
The decision was announced by Bassil's office on Friday. The miniser has accused UNHCR of intimidating refugees to prevent their return to Syria.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Tuesday, UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said the agency was "very concerned" by the move.
"We hope the decision of the foreign ministry will be reversed without delay," he said.
UNHCR has denied Bassil's allegations but made clear it does not believe the conditions in Syria are "conducive for an assisted return" -- although a spokesman said the situation was changing and that the agency was following developments.
There are an estimated 1.5 million people displaced by the war in neighboring Syria in Lebanon -- a figure representing more than a quarter of its population before the conflict.