Diplomacy please

Ambassadors and U.N. agency representatives gathered at UNHCR offices on June 11, 2018. (Photo from U.K. Ambassador Hugo Shorter Twitter)

The U.N.’s presence in Lebanon dates back to the early ’50s, just a few years after the end of World War II, with the arrival at the time of UNRWA, which looked after the affairs and aid of the displaced Palestinians, while UNESCO and UNICEF followed soon after.

Today Lebanon can boast the presence of no fewer than 25 independent U.N. agencies, here under mandate to serve the country and the region, although under the umbrella of the United Nations, giving credence to the stature of Lebanon and offering a multitude of services and assistance through agencies such as UNIFIL, UNRWA, UNESCO and ESCWA to name a few.

One such agency, the UNHCR, has recently been playing a vital role since the eruption of the Syrian conflict that resulted in more than 1.5 million Syrians taking refuge in Lebanon.

It is natural that disagreements, misunderstandings and the rejection of U.N. policies by Lebanon would surface over the years, considering that these agencies’ policies do not always align with those of the country.

Still, these bumps in the road have always been ironed out in the most diplomatic and amicable manner, and at the highest level of governance.

However, in the latest scuffle, caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has taken a different route, adopting drastic measures against the UNHCR that are neither under his jurisdiction nor his authority, and inviting an outcry from all parties involved.

Lebanon cannot afford, especially in these perilous times, but to have the best of relationships with agencies that include the IMF and World Bank, and form a protective armor around the country that is only as strong as the weakest link.

It is best that diplomacy remain the recourse to address differences with the U.N. regardless of the scope of the problem. With Lebanon in dire need of its friends, the effort is worthwhile.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 12, 2018, on page 1.




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