ANJAR/BAR ELIAS, Lebanon: Some of the 2,000 Syrian refugees stranded on the border with Lebanon began to cross into Syria Friday after being denied exit earlier by the General Security for lack of legal papers.
By Friday evening, a General Security source said some of the paperwork had been completed, and an unknown number of the refugees had been granted access to Syria. “We are making legal papers for them now. Every one of them will be able to cross to Syria once he gets his legal papers,” the source told The Daily Star.
The source did not specify how many of the 2,000 refugees had been able to re-enter Syria.
The source said the refugees, who had previously been on the outskirts of Arsal, had entered Lebanon illegally and did not have the paperwork required to exit the country.
The refugees left the northeastern Bekaa Valley town of Arsal Thursday night after fighting between militants and the Lebanese Army there subsided. When they reached the border crossing at Masnaa, however, they were stopped.
“We reached Masnaa and got turned back. They didn’t accept us,” said Hasan, a lean Syrian man standing in the middle of the little used highway just a few kilometers from the Syrian border.
Members of his family meandered near their truck, stacked high with mattresses and sundry supplies.
Hundreds of family groupings rested in the narrow shadows their trucks cast on the asphalt. Some children sat atop trucks, hastily packed, hoping for an imminent departure. Other had laid out blankets beneath their trucks, seeking respite from the punishing summer sun. Workers from several NGOs were distributing water, food and diapers to families in the stricken convoy.
A separate security source told The Daily Star that the Lebanese authorities were willing to let the refugees leave the country Thursday night despite their lack of proper documentation, but that Syrian General Security was adamant that all their paperwork be in order before they could re-enter.
But Victoria Stanski of Mercy Corps, one of the NGOs distributing aid at the scene, said many refugees remained along the side of the road Friday evening as the sun began to set. She said they didn’t seem to have the intention to cross into Syria.
“They are not crossing the border back to Syria. Officially, there is a sense that the refugees don’t want to go back to Syria. It seems that they are waiting to receive guidance from the Lebanese authorities,” Stanski wrote in an email.
“They anticipate sleeping under the rocks, behind signs, on the streets,” she added.
UNHCR confirmed that as of Friday evening, a large number of Syrian refugees still remained stranded along the roadside between Masnaa and Anjar.
The Daily Star Friday morning spoke with refugees who expressed mixed feelings regarding returning to Syria.
“We want to go back to Syria,” said Amira, a middle-aged Syrian woman standing near the highway’s center divide.
“Yes, we want to go back,” agreed Abu Kasem, an elderly man.
Others, however, said they were worried about the fate that awaited them in Syria. “We do not know what might happen to us inside Syria,” Hassan said.
“Some men here want to stay.”
After the hostilities around Arsal this week, during which several refugee camps were reportedly shelled as the army tried to rout militants, some refugees said they felt Lebanon was hostile territory and were resigned to returning to Syria.
“We ran from bombings [in Syria] to new bombings inside Lebanon. It’s as if we are not welcome here,” Hassan said.
Most refugees in the convoy had previously been seeking refuge in the badlands surrounding Arsal where the militants involved in clashes with the Army have sought refuge in recent months.
Amira, however, vehemently denied that the refugees in the convoy had been involved in the fighting, which killed 17 Lebanese Army soldiers. She said she did not know who was responsible for the attacks.
“Of course we don’t know who has weapons ... Those who are saying that we have weapons are liars,” she said.
Another refugee, Abu Mohammad, offered a slightly different response. “Only the poor people came here,” he said, gesturing to the scores of families on the highway. “They don’t have weapons. And even if they did, would they have brought them and turned themselves in?”