New Lebanon Border Protocol Targets Syrians

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After the number of Syrians in Lebanon reached 1.2 million, the Lebanese leadership decided to implement stricter entry requirements for Syrians. (Photo: Marwan Bou Haidar)

By: Usama al-Qadiri

Published Monday, July 29, 2013

For Syrians, entry into Lebanon is not as easy as it used to be. An undeclared political decision has been implemented to toughen up entry requirements for Syrians crossing into Lebanon. Though Lebanese authorities will not expel displaced Syrians, they have begun raising alarm bells now that the number of Syrians in Lebanon has reached almost 1.2 million.

Efforts are underway to curb Syrian traffic into Lebanon. This follows several warnings from Lebanese politicians regarding the implications of the swelling number of refugees on Lebanon’s economy and security.

For four days now, Lebanese land border crossings, run by General Security, have turned back dozens of Syrians as a result of new procedures. Border guards are denying entry to Syrians with “broken” or “scratched” ID cards, in addition to Syrians who are suspected of traveling too many times between the two countries.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, a source at General Security said that the agency’s director issued a memo five days ago outlining the above policy. The source said that as a result, hundreds of Syrians have been turned back at the border in the past few days.

According to ministerial sources, the new procedures are not the result of a decision made by General Security alone, but follow a decision made by Lebanese authorities. After the number of Syrians in Lebanon reached 1.2 million, the Lebanese leadership decided to implement stricter entry requirements for Syrians.

Ministerial sources said that the international refugee agencies, especially the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), have been conducting interviews with the Syrians applying to register as refugees, saying that these organizations reject hundreds of applications each week.

This, the sources said, happens because many do not meet the criteria for refugee status, whether because they have been present in Lebanon since before the Syrian conflict, or because they have come from safe areas in their home country. Certain NGOs have also said that some Syrians come to Lebanon to receive aid, before returning to Syria.

In the same vein, ministerial sources stressed, “The Lebanese security services are warning against dangers arising from the Syrian presence in Lebanon, not from a racist standpoint but because there is no prospect for Syrians in Lebanon to return to their country in the near to medium-term.”

Recently, a meeting brought together the president, the prime minister, the ministers of interior and social affairs, and the director general of General Security, who then decided to establish two reception centers for Syrian and Palestinian refugees at the Masnaa and Arida border crossings, to be managed by the Lebanese government. The centers will be tasked with verifying the identities of incoming Syrian nationals, and then separating refugees from non-refugees, before granting or denying entry to Lebanon.

But to date, according to more than one minister involved in the issue, Lebanon does not dare deport Syrians. The source we spoke to said, “This would cause a huge backlash. Despite the fact that we are the only country that opened its borders to the Syrians, and although no one is blaming Jordan, Iraq, or Turkey for the measures they have taken with Syrian refugees, any action by the Lebanese government in this direction would put it immediately in the spotlight.”

According to the source, no political consensus has been reached yet over building camps for Syrian refugees, even though there is a widespread belief that this would improve their conditions and reduce security risks.

However, another view holds that the Lebanese government would be unable to manage these camps, because of the lack of funding and the failure of most major countries to fulfill their commitments to help Lebanon cope with the Syrian refugee crisis.

The proponents of this second view say that instead of breaking down the burdens of refugee relief among the various organizations operating across Lebanon, building a refugee camp would concentrate all these burdens in one place, which would then be left without any adequate management.

Until decisions are made on how to deal with Syrian refugees in a comprehensive manner, Lebanese General Security will continue to step up its measures at border crossings to reduce the influx of Syrians into the country.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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