Lebanon foreign minister threatens measures against UN agency over Syrian refugees

Lebanon foreign minister threatens measures against UN agency over Syrian refugees
Gebran Bassil has accused the UN's refugee agency of "intimidating" Syrian refugees by preventing them from returning home.
2 min read
08 June, 2018
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil [Getty]
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said on Thursday he will take action against the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR, accusing it of "intimidating" Syrian refugees who want to return.

Bassil said the Lebanese government would escalate "procedures" against the humanitarian agency starting from Friday, according to a speech on his Twitter page, without detailing the measures.

"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," said Bassil, who is caretake minister while Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is yet to form a government since 6 May elections.

As Syrian regime forces and allies retake more territory, Lebanon's president and other politicians have called for refugees to go back to "secure areas" before a deal is reached to end the war. 

Read more: Return to Syria? Refugees draft grassroots proposal

The UNHCR has repeatedly warned the situation inside Syria is too insecure for returns, yet Lebanon insists refugees are voluntarily returning.

Last week, the head of Lebanon's general security agency, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, said Lebanon was working with Damascus for the return of thousands of refugees who want to go back to Syria.

On Thursday the mayor of a Lebanese border town hosting tens of thousands of refugees said around 3,000 are expected to go back to Syria in the coming week.

Bassil said a mission has found the UNHCR is "intimidating" displaced people who want to go home.

"Today we sent a mission which verified that UNHCR is intimidating the displaced people who wish to return voluntarily," Bassil said.

"Our affection for (the displaced Syrians) says that the time has come for returns since conditions are safe," he said, adding that only the international community is stopping this happening.

"We announce our determination to break the international desire to prevent the return of the displaced," he said.

Lebanon, a country of four million, hosts around 1 million registered Syrian refugees according to the United Nations, who have fled the war since 2011. 

The government puts the number at 1.5 million and says their presence has strained public services and suppressed economic growth.