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Lebanon freezes all residency applications submitted by UN refugee agency

Published: Updated:

Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister Gebran Bassil has ordered a freeze on residency applications submitted by staff of United Nations’ refugee agency, accusing it of hindering the return of Syrian refugees by “spreading fear”, his office said on Friday,

Lebanon hosts more than a million Syrian refugees who now constitute more than a quarter of its population and says their presence has strained public services and suppressed economic growth.

The Foreign ministry statement came amid reports that around 3,000 Syrians are getting ready to go back to their country.

As Syrian forces and their allies retake more territory, Lebanon’s president and other top politicians have increasingly called for refugees to return to “secure areas”.

In an emailed statement, Bassil said UNHCR had been questioning refugees about the possibility of their facing military conscription, security problems, poor accommodation and living conditions, adding that this discouraged them from returning.

He said he would consider taking further measures against the body.

UNHCR officials said Lebanon’s government had not yet formally notified it of the step.