Lebanon expressed a conditional readiness to lift the measures taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs against the UNHCR staff, in light of European pressure and resentment of the Lebanese rhetoric, “which accuses the Europeans of working to settle the refugees in Lebanon.”
German Ambassador to Lebanon Martin Huth said the international community was “dismayed by repeated false accusations” that it is working to settle Syrian refugees in Lebanon. This came after caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil accused the UNHCR and the international community of preventing the return of Syrian refugees to their country.
Sources close to the matter told Asharq Al-Awsat that there was an “international consensus to denounce the language of the Lebanese State on resettlement,” adding that “settling the displaced is out of the question.”
The sources also highlighted a “total rejection of any organized return in large numbers,” describing it as an “illusion” at the current stage. They added that the British and US positions “are the most stringent in this regard.”
Meanwhile, Bassil showed a conditional willingness to backtrack on his actions towards UNHCR. He told UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in Geneva on Thursday that he was ready to lift the initial actions taken against UNHCR if he saw a change in the policy adopted, and was ready to increase it in the absence of any change.
Last week, Bassil ordered a freeze on the renewal of UNHCR staff residency permits until further notice, claiming that the agency had scared refugees away from returning to Syria through a series of warnings and threats.
“I am 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 said in Geneva.
“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 are rather asking it not to scare them of returning,” the caretaker minister added.