Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is Lebanon Closing Its Door to Syrian Refugees?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is Lebanon Closing Its Door to Syrian Refugees?

Article excerpt

Lebanon, struggling to cope with a massive influx of Syrian refugees, began implementing new entry measures along its border Monday in a bid to restrict the flow of people escaping Syria's grueling civil war.

The influx is believed to have increased Lebanon's population by as much as a third, straining its resources, while international efforts to assist countries hosting Syrian refugees have fallen far short of their stated fundraising goals. Aid agencies, however, are voicing concern that the unprecedented border restrictions will prevent endangered Syrians from escaping the war-torn country.

"Governments are perfectly entitled to manage their borders - that's their responsibility and their right - and we just want to make sure that refugees in urgent need of assistance can still get entry on a case-by-case basis," says Ron Redmond, spokesman for the United Nations Higher Commission on Refugees (UNHCR).

Traditionally, Syrians only required an identification card to enter Lebanon. But as of Monday, all Syrian visitors will have to apply for one of six different visas - tourist, business, student, transit, short stay, or medical. Visa applicants will have to provide a valid passport and accompanying material proving that they have valid reasons for entering Lebanon, such as sponsorship by employers, hotel reservations, or admission letters from schools and universities.

Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million, hosts just under 1.1 million refugees who have registered with the UNHCR, although the true figure is believed to be closer to 1.5 million. That would mean Lebanon has the highest per capita refugee population in the world, the equivalent of the United States absorbing almost the entire population of Mexico in under four years.

The refugees, who are scattered across the country, have placed a huge burden on Lebanon's already frail infrastructure, and tensions between the refugees and host communities are on the rise. Many Lebanese fear the Syrians will become a permanent presence like the Palestinians who fled their homes in 1948 during the creation of Israel and have stayed, along with their descendants, in Lebanon ever since. …

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