MASNAA, Lebanon: Responding to reports that refugees from Syria are facing tougher entry measures at border crossings, a high level General Security source told The Daily Star no new measures had been taken, but that existing entry laws were being applied more stringently. At the border crossing in Masnaa, things appeared to be normal as long queues of cars lined the entry point and Syrians told The Daily Star entry conditions were ordinary.
“They saw my young son in crutches and let us pass,” said Asma, a woman who fled from particularly dire circumstances in Hama after her husband was abducted.
“We haven’t issued any new measures, other than the ones that are already in place,” the General Security source said.
“However, we make a point of asking them exactly where they [the arrivals] are going to stay in Lebanon,” he added.
The source said that in the past, when the influx of refugees had been substantial, General Security facilitated the entry of some individuals who lacked proper identification documents.
Syrians receive an entry visa allowing them to stay in the country for a year, extended from the original six months because of the crisis.
His comments came in the wake of a report by Human Rights Watch indicating that the government had abruptly begun to restrict Palestinians from entering Lebanon from Syria as of Aug. 6, when about 200 Palestinians were left stranded between the Lebanese and Syrian borders.
Asked about special measures targeting Palestinians, the source reiterated: “There are no new measures adopted by General Security; we only implement the [existing] regulations, laws and instructions in place ... and [we do so] fairly on Palestinians and Syrians coming from Syria.”
The source said incidents where Palestinians were denied entry last week may reflect more caution exercised in light of instances where Palestinians entered Lebanon for short periods to register for aid.
“On the night of July 4 five buses full of Palestinian refugees came from Syria, with 250 people who then made their way to Wavel [refugee camp] in Baalbek, registered their names to qualify for aid, and then made their way back to Syria the next day,” the source explained.
“Why did they go back in 48 hours? This means something isn’t right,” the source asked.
Another source who works at the border and is familiar with General Security procedures said he had regularly observed such short-term crossings by Palestinians.
He also said authorities were planning to implement new measures whereby Palestinians would be allowed entry provided they had a Lebanese guarantor.
Syrians who had come to Lebanon for the Eid al-Fitr holiday were also lined up to return, mostly to Damascus, an area they said was relatively safe.
As for the Syrians who have been turned away from the borders, the source familiar with General Security procedures said the majority of the cases had been a result of invalid identity documents, producing examples of some cards which were considered too damaged.
“Syrian ID cards are made with paper and are weakly laminated, so they’re easily damaged,” he said, producing one as an example. While the name and date of birth was clearly visible, the card was folded down the middle and peeling at the sides.
The measures, he acknowledged, were causing some Syrians to react angrily. One such incident was recorded by Al-Jadeed TV over the weekend, showing a man in uniform beating back a crowd of Syrians with what appeared to be a leather belt.
“The media’s reporting of the incident was unfair,” the source said, saying the officers had been provoked by a crowd of angry Syrians banging on their office windows.
U.N. officials and Palestinian representatives in Lebanon, on the other hand, said it was clear that some form of restriction had been implemented barring Palestinians from entry, but that whether this reflected new measures remained unclear.
Ann Dismorr, UNRWA’s country director, said the agency was caught “by surprise” when the 200 Palestinians were stranded in no-man’s land.
“What is clear is that there are some restrictions in place,” Dismorr said, adding that she was busy urgently following up the matter with top officials. “I think there has been a lot of uncertainty and we need transparency.”
To ensure that the aid process isn’t abused, UNRWA has required a two-week waiting period in Lebanon for those seeking to register as refugees.
The number of Palestinians arriving in Lebanon has fallen sharply as a result, according to Dismorr, dropping from several hundred to dozens a day.
Fathi Abu Ardat, a Palestinian official in Beirut who represents both the PLO and Fatah, learned about the apparent restriction along the border two days ago.
“We are cooperating with the government to resolve the problem, and to allow them to let them [the Palestinians] enter Lebanon,” he told The Daily Star.
“The government is trying to limit the number of migrants, and it’s affecting only Palestinians, not Syrians.”