Lebanon imposes visas on Syrians

2015-01-06 06:54

New entry visa regulations came into force yesterday in Lebanon for people from war-torn neighbouring Syria as authorities in Beirut struggle to cope with a massive influx of Syrian refugees.

Under the new rules, Syrians will only be able to enter Lebanon with the sponsorship of a Lebanese citizen or if they have documents supporting their status in one of a number of categories such as tourist, business or transit visitors.

Previously, Syrian and Lebanese citizens were able to cross the border simply by showing their identity cards to border guards.

Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq said the change would reduce the “unjustified Syrian presence in Lebanon”.

“We now have about 1.5 million Syrians in Lebanon, of whom just over 1.17 million are registered refugees ... I think that is enough,” he said.

Lebanon is “not capable of receiving more refugees”, Mashnouq said.

Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas told Voice of Lebanon Radio that visas could be obtained at the border.

United States State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Washington was “very concerned” that Lebanon’s new visa requirements “will create additional challenges for refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict”.

Lebanon, which has a population of less than 5 million, hosts 1.16 million registered Syrian refugees, according to United Nationa figures. Many better-off Syrians living in neighbouring countries have not registered as refugees with the United Nations.

The Lebanese government started implementing restrictions in October on the entry of refugees.

According to United Nations’ figures, about 3.2 million people have fled abroad since Syria’s conflict began in 2011, with another 7.6 million displaced internally.

The United States urged the Lebanese government to “coordinate closely” with the UN to “ensure those feeling violence and persecution are able to cross into Lebanon”, Psaki said.

“We will continue to strongly encourage the governments of the region to provide refuge and [provide] for a refuge for asylum seekers.”

She praised Lebanon, as well as Turkey, Jordan and Iraq for hosting millions of Syrian refugees: “We recognise this is a tremendous challenge for their economies and public services.”

Psaki called the wave of refugees “a growing burden on Lebanon for some time now”.

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