Lebanon News

‘Humanitarian’ border controls target Palestinians

File - Syrians enter into Lebanon through the Masnaa crossing border in the eastern Bekaa valley, Friday, July 20, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Recent stricter entry controls being enforced at the borders are “humanitarian,” the caretaker social affairs minister said Wednesday, as an international rights group said hundreds of Palestinians were being negatively affected by the new measures. “We will not close the borders, we will not hand over Syrian activists and we won’t expel the refugees,” Abu Faour said during a news conference at UNHCR’s headquarters in Jnah. “At the same time, there are people who are taking advantage of this situation and pretend to be refugees to benefit from aid ... There are numerous such cases.”

“The measures taken by General Security are preliminary measures; they are subject to audit and review,” he added. “They are humanitarian measures which take into consideration the circumstances of the Syrians citizens wanting to cross the borders.”

Last week, new border regulations were implemented requiring Syrians to show valid identification, such as a passport or Syrian ID, and explain their reason for arrival. Syrians with damaged identity documents are no longer allowed to enter Lebanon.

About 150 Syrians a day are turned away because their reasons for entry do not satisfy humanitarian grounds, according to General Security statistics.

Yet these numbers are larger when it comes to Palestinians. Abu Faour said the number of Palestinians from Syria had dropped to just under 30 families a day from 350. The government is in talks with UNHCR to erect aid centers along the border to minimize the flow of Palestinians, who overwhelm already-crowded refugee camps.

Human Rights Watch says the new regulations are adversely affecting Palestinians. Nadim Houry, the organization’s country director, told The Daily Star around 200 Palestinians were stranded between Syria’s and Lebanon’s border Tuesday night.

“Basically last night [Tuesday] they [Lebanese border security] told Palestinians they would not be able to enter Lebanon,” Houry told The Daily Star. He said many had spent the night there, and about half made their way back to Syria in the morning.

Two such Palestinians told HRW they were informed by General Security that it had been ordered to not let Palestinians into the country unless they were married to a Lebanese, were the children of a Lebanese or could prove with a plane ticket they had plans to leave Lebanon that day.

Abu Faour said the new measures sought to organize the refugees in the country and ensure the situation was temporary. “The Lebanese state expects and works for the return of the Syrian refugees to their country the minute stability is restored in their hometowns.”

He added: “There are Syrians coming to Lebanon who are not fleeing killing, destruction, threats, famine and fighting back in their hometowns.”

A General Security source confirmed border officers were being stricter and asking refugees where they planned to stay in Lebanon.

The source said those legitimately escaping conflict were a “special case” requiring coordination with UNHCR and the Social Affairs Ministry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 08, 2013, on page 4.




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