Lebanon foreign minister escalates refugee row with UN agency

A Syrian refugee woman stands next to her daughter as she watches the visit of the Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil to their refugee camp, in Arsal, near the border with Syria, east Lebanon, Wednesday, June 13, 2018. (AP)
Updated 13 June 2018
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Lebanon foreign minister escalates refugee row with UN agency

  • Lebanon accuses the UNHCR of working to stop refugees from returning to Syria
  • UNHCR says supports the return of refugees when it is safe

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister escalated his row with the UN refugee agency UNHCR on Wednesday, accusing it at a news conference of working to stop refugees from returning to Syria.
UNHCR has denied the accusation, saying it supports the return of refugees when it is safe for them to go back to Syria and helps those who choose to return with their documentation.
“Their policy is to forbid the return,” Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said. “The Lebanese policy is to encourage the return. Forbid, encourage. Stop, facilitate. That’s it,” Bassil said during the news conference in the town of Arsal, where he spoke alongside Syrian refugees.
“UNHCR does not forbid refugees from returning,” Rula Amin, UNHCR’s MENA region spokesperson sad in emailed comments to Reuters. “UNHCR’s policy is clear on this matter: we respect people’s free choices to return.”
“UNHCR is not the obstacle to the return, the obstacles lay elsewhere and in the complex situation on the ground,” Amin said, adding that the UNHCR recognizes the challenges Lebanon faces in hosting Syrian refugees.
The UN has registered about a million refugees in Lebanon — nearly a quarter of Lebanon’s population. The Lebanese government, which puts the figure at 1.5 million, says it wants them to start going back to territory where fighting is over.
Bassil said on Wednesday the burden of hosting Syrian refugees seven years into the conflict that drove them to flee had grown “unbearable,” blaming the crisis for the collapse of the economy and emigration of Lebanese citizens.
Last week, Bassil ordered a freeze on applications by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for residency permits for its staff, saying it was intimidating refugees into staying in Lebanon.
Some 19 UNHCR staff members are affected by the Lebanese residency permit freeze, UNHCR Lebanon representative, Mireille Girard, told Reuters on Tuesday, and the agency’s spokesman in Geneva said it hopes the decision will be reversed.
Bassil accuses UNHCR of discouraging refugees from going home by asking them questions about potential difficulties they face upon return, including possible military conscription, damage to housing and lack of UN support in parts of Syria.
“I don’t want to have disputes with them, but it’s time to tell them enough,” he said.
The UNHCR favors the return of all refugees when it is safe for them to go home and speaks to refugees in all countries when they are preparing to return home to make sure it can give them enough support and protection, Girard said.
Another senior UN official, the deputy special coordinator for Lebanon Philippe Lazzarini, was quoted late on Tuesday as saying it would be “inconceivable” for the body to oppose refugees who wanted to go home.
“We respect refugees’ individual decision to return home and would never, never discourage the return from taking place based on their decision,” Prime Minister designate Saad Al-Hariri’s office quoted Lazzarini as saying during a meeting.
Lebanon’s government is operating on a caretaker basis because Hariri has not yet formed a new cabinet after parliamentary elections on May 6.


Egypt offers residency to foreign investors

Updated 21 November 2018
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Egypt offers residency to foreign investors

  • A three-year residency is on offer for those who invest $200,000, and five years for those who purchase property worth $400,000
  • To begin the process for obtaining Egyptian residency, a preliminary contract must be agreed between the property owner and the foreign investor

CAIRO: In an attempt to further boost its booming real estate sector and attract foreign investment, Egypt will grant residency permits to foreigners who invest at least $100,000 in the country’s property market.
The growth rate of Egypt’s property market stands at 133 percent in 2018. This has been fueled by strong demand for housing, along with the sporadic launch of residential construction projects.
The minimum investment required to obtain a residency permit is $100,000. A three-year residency is on offer for those who invest $200,000, and five years for those who purchase property worth $400,000. The offer also applies to properties that are still under construction.
Khaled Abbas, the deputy minister of housing, said the procedures for the scheme are being set up in consultation with the Passport, Immigration and Nationality Administration.
To begin the process for obtaining Egyptian residency, a preliminary contract must be agreed between the property owner and the foreign investor, and then signed by an authorized body, such the Urban Communities Authority, the Tourism Development Authority or the governorate in which the property is located. Bank statements must also be provided confirming that the money has been transferred from overseas. The passport office will then approve the period of residence.
Members of the House of Representatives welcomed the announcement as a positive move for Egypt and an incentive for foreign investment, which it is hoped will create jobs and economic opportunities.
Whether the public will be so keen remains to be seen.
“This might be a bit problematic,” said Aly Salem, a resident of Cairo. “The housing demand in Egypt is already high, with the surging youth population and more and more people looking to get married each year. Where will they stay, if foreigners start swooping in and acquiring both residency and a huge housing unit with just $100,000?”
Offering further details, Gen. Kamel Amer, the head of the Parliament’s Defense and National Security Committee, said foreigners will not have any political rights for the first five years of residency and they will not be eligible to vote for 10 years. He also said spouses and children of investors will not be granted residency unless they live in Egypt.
Spain and Portugal have implemented similar programs in an attempt to boost their property markets. Previously, a foreigner had to live in Egypt for 10 consecutive years to be eligible for naturalization.
The new residency law is part of the efforts to repair the damage to Egypt’s economy caused by severe austerity measures imposed after the $12 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.
The cost and size of properties in Egypt, which are often large and lavish apartments, compare favorably to those in many other countries. Despite this, few Egyptians can afford to pay for a house upfront, but some private property developers are offering 10-year, interest-free installment plans.