BEIRUT: The Libyan government has reportedly introduced severe new immigration restrictions, including a moratorium on visas for Lebanese nationals, Libyan and Lebanese sources told The Daily Star.
A Lebanese businessman who has been working in Libya regularly since 2011 said he was recently denied a visa for the first time, and knows of many similar cases. The businessman declined to speak on the record because he is currently in the process of reapplying.
Mohammad Zaghlout, a Libyan who runs the Africana Travel Agency and often secures visas for foreigners, said the government had stopped issuing visas to Lebanese and Iranian nationals. He would not speculate as to the reasons behind the move.
“There were changes in the office of passports and immigration,” including a new director, Zaghlout said, adding that even foreign nationals who used to be able to get a visa on arrival at the airport could no longer do so.
The businessman also blamed the Libyan government’s new policy for the cancellation of a high-profile “First Libyan-Lebanese Investment Forum,” which was scheduled to take place Feb. 10 and 11.
A spokesperson for the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon, one of the partner organizations supporting the forum, denied it had been canceled due to visa restrictions. The spokesperson said IDAL had received a letter from the Libyan organizing committee indefinitely postponing the forum because it fell too close to the anniversary of the Feb. 17 revolution. This is at least the second time the event has been delayed after being originally scheduled for November of last year.
It is unclear why the Libyans would have scheduled a conference to compete with official celebrations on the anniversary of the revolution, but the cancellation coincides with mounting tension in Libya between government and opposition forces.
Major protests against the regime have been planned for Feb. 15, and media reports suggest both sides are preparing for possible clashes.
The businessman insisted, however, “that’s not the reason” for the cancellation of the summit. “They’re afraid of Hezbollah; they’re afraid of the Shiites,” he said. “I’m not Shiite, but they can’t tell the difference so they’re banning all Lebanese.”
The Daily Star was not able to contact the Libyan Foreign Ministry for comment. A Lebanese Foreign Ministry source denied the reports.
The apparent change in visa policy is merely the latest episode in the turbulent history of Lebanese-Libyan relations. Lebanese resentment over the disappearance of Imam Musa Sadr in Libya in 1978 continues to run deep.