BEIRUT: The Internal Security Forces will begin cracking down on unlicensed businesses owned by Syrians as well as on Syrian beggars, citing the economic strain on the country, ministers announced Tuesday. Joint teams from the Interior and Economy ministries will begin shutting down unlicensed businesses in the Bekaa Valley starting Monday before moving onto other areas.
The decision was made at a meeting at the Grand Serail headed by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and attended by caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, caretaker Economy and Trade Minister Nicolas Nahhas, General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, and ISF acting director Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous.
“Syrian refugees are welcome in Lebanon, as is anyone fleeing war, hunger or destruction, but at the same time, Lebanese law must be respected,” Abu Faour said following the meeting. “There are only five or six villages between the western and central Bekaa Valley, and the security forces have counted 377 unauthorized businesses.”
Abu Faour also said the ISF would be turning its attention to some of the popular outdoor markets such as Souk al-Ahad and others in the Bekaa Valley in order to prevent “unfair competition.” Abu Faour warned that tensions at the markets had risen to such a level that brawls were not uncommon.
“We are on their side [the Syrians] until their tragedy and suffering has ended, but at the same time we have to protect Lebanese citizens,” Abu Faour concluded. “We agreed on a set of procedures to be carried out by public security at the border which comply with all humanitarian and moral standards, but at the same time prevent anyone from exploiting the issue of asylum.”
Abu Faour went on to say that the security forces would also begin removing beggars from the streets, but would concentrate on mafia-like organizations that run large beggar rings.
“A decision was taken that the ISF should be responsible for addressing all cases of begging and remove [beggars] from the streets,” Abu Faour said. “Perhaps there should be some sort of social treatment as well, such as moving the children who are begging to centers, but the Lebanese state lacks the capacity to absorb [these children].”
He added that the informal Syrian settlements under the Cola Bridge and in and around Salim Salam would be removed, claiming his ministry had sent more than one team to investigate these encampments before determining the occupants were not refugees.
“It is clear to us that these are not refugees, but rather they are people who are taking advantage of the asylum process and insulting Syrian refugees, and the stability and security of the Lebanese.
“There are places that would host them; associations and the Lebanese state both offered to host them, but they refused because there are those who want to take advantage of the Syrian refugee issue.”
Speaking about the effects on the Lebanese economy, Nahhas said the ministry had received many complaints about Syrian refugees opening unlicensed businesses, which, he said, was “not only a violation of the law,” uses the Syrian refugees presence in Lebanon as a pretext.
“Any institution, any small shop, any type of business that opened recently and that does not have a [license] will be closed,” he vowed. “There will be no leniency in the matter, because the refugee, whose presence we respect and whom we help and try to alleviate his suffering, must respect the laws. ... He is under the care of humanitarian organizations that give him aid, but he cannot take aid while breaking the law.”