BEIRUT — Lebanon's caretaker foreign minister ordered a freeze Friday on the renewal of residency permits for the staff of the United Nations refugee agency, saying it is not encouraging Syrian refugees to return home.
Gibran Bassil said in a statement from his office that UNHCR is intimidating Syrian refugees in Lebanon from returning by asking them about compulsory military service, security conditions and whether they have a place to live.
Sentiments against Syrian refugees have been increasing, especially after groups calling for their return home made major gains in last month's parliamentary elections.
Lebanon is home to more than a million Syrian refugees, or about a quarter of the country's population. Bassil's statement came amid reports that some 3,000 Syrians are getting ready to head back home later this month.
The statement said the measure by the ministry came after direct warnings by the ministry to UNHCR representative in Lebanon Mireille Girard who was summoned twice recently.
It added that Bassil has asked what extra measures could be taken against UNHCR "if it insists on following the same policy."
UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said the agency has so far not been formally informed about the decision and refused to comment until officially authorized.