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Lebanon freezes residency applications for UNHCR staff

Joseph Eid, AFP | A Syrian refugee girl stands between the tents and shelters at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the town of Zahle in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on January 26, 2018.

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has directed authorities to freeze all residency applications submitted by the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, his office said in an emailed statement on Friday.

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

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 he would consider taking further measures against the agency.

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

Bassil said UNHCR had discouraged refugees in Arsal from returning by asking them questions about conditions they might face in Syria, including the possibility of military conscription, security problems and poor accommodation.

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

Lebanon's government is operating on a caretaker basis because prime minister designate Saad al-Hariri has not yet formed a government since parliamentary elections on May 6.

(REUTERS)

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