Lebanon News

Border policies quietly changing for Syrian refugees

File - Lebanon’s General Security officers inspect IDs and documents of Syrians living in Lebanon who are waiting to cross the Masnaa border crossing.

BEIRUT: Entry requirements for Syrian refugees appear to have quietly been made stricter on Lebanon’s official border crossings with Syria in the last two weeks, monitoring agencies told The Daily Star. While the Interior Ministry hasn’t formally announced more restrictive measures, a government source well-acquainted with the issue confirmed to The Daily Star that entry requirements for Syrians had become stricter, but that a definitive policy was still being devised.

“It’s not as easy [for Syrians] to enter as it was before,” said the source, who requested anonymity.

According to the source, Syrians entering through official crossings, in particular Masnaa, which sees the highest volume of cross-border activity, must provide a reason for entry into Lebanon and be able to prove it.

Those who have valid medical reasons for entry, have work in Lebanon, are in transit or have pre-approved visas are permitted to cross, the source said, while others face more scrutiny and, according to statistics provided by a security source, are often turned back.

An aid worker, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said he had been informed that the borders had been effectively closed to refugees for two weeks.

UNRWA, which has border-monitoring specialists stationed in Masnaa, also noted that the low number of Syrians coming in was “unusual.”

According to a General Security source in the Bekaa Valley, males between the ages of 16 and 30 in particular are being turned away. The source said that current cross-border flows totaled between 2,000 and 3,000. Three months ago, in contrast, they peaked at 15,000.

In June, the interior minister announced that Syrian refugees registered with the U.N. would have their status revoked if they returned to their home country, even for brief spells. The Social Affairs Ministry also announced that only Syrians from areas bordering Lebanon would be permitted to enter.

Neither of the decrees has been officially implemented.

Last month, Lebanon got international backing from the International Support Group meeting in New York to implement a set of policies aimed at curbing the flow of Syrian refugees.

The new measures appear to be informal at the moment, but reflect ongoing preparations being carried out by the authorities to overhaul entry and exit procedures for good, the source explained.

“The policy is still unfolding, it’s being finalized,” the source said. “It will become more transparent in the second stage.”

According to the source, criteria being employed by General Security officers to evaluate humanitarian cases were contingent on the dynamics on the ground in Syria. “If they are fleeing, they have to prove it,” the source said. “But any policy or criteria with respect to crossing the borders is adaptable according to the security and military situation in Syria.”

The UNHCR acknowledged that tighter restrictions were in place for Syrians, UNHCR country director Ninette Kelly told The Daily Star. “It’s definitely been observed that the numbers are down.

“There is still cross-border movement, but the intention to restrict refugees’ entry seems to be activated,” she said.

Praising the government for allowing nearly 1.2 million refugees to enter the country, Kelley said the agency recognized “what Lebanon has said, that it’s got an incredible number of refugees,”

“We also see it as a kind of burden, with the additional security element, aggravated in recent weeks due to the conflict in Syria,” she added. “We understand why the government has come to this decision and we appreciate very much their commitment on working on access to those with humanitarian concerns.” – Additional reporting by Elise Knutsen

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 02, 2014, on page 4.

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