Lebanon to impose visa restrictions on Syrians as influx of refugees grows

Number of refugees from Syria’s conflict has reached 25 per cent of Lebanese population

A Syrian refugee camp. Last spring Lebanon began to limit the number of Syrians granted entry for “humanitarian” reasons. Photograph: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian refugee camp. Last spring Lebanon began to limit the number of Syrians granted entry for “humanitarian” reasons. Photograph: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images

 

Beirut is today set to impose visa restrictions on Syrians for the first time since independence in 1943 as the influx of refugees from Syria’s brutal conflict has reached 25 per cent of the Lebanese population of four million.

In Lebanon there are 1.15 million Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations and 12,500 awaiting registration, making their presence the greatest refugee concentration worldwide.

Additionally, there are an estimated 500,000 Syrians who are long-term residents or migrant construction and agricultural labourers not classified as refugees. Their presence raises the percentage of Syrians to 35 per cent.

New regulations define categories of visas, including business, tourism, education, medical treatment and transit via Beirut airport. Tourist visas require a valid passport or identity document, a confirmed hotel reservation and $1,000.

Visas are also available for Syrians who own property in Lebanon or who are seeking to enter to apply for visas at foreign embassies in Beirut. Visas are to be granted at the main Masnaa border crossing between Syria and Lebanon.

Syrians legally resident in Lebanon or registered with the UN will not be required to apply for visas until their residence permits expire.

Humanitarian reasons

High CommissionRon Redmond

Social Affairs minister Rashid Derbas was quoted in Beirut’s al-Akhbar newspaper as saying: “The goal is to bring the security and economic situation under control and to monitor the presence of Syrians on Lebanese soil.”

The flood of refugees has put massive strain on the country’s slender resources and deteriorating infrastructure, and created serious security problems due to violent spill-over from the nearly four-year-old Syrian civil war.

Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria has seen continuous clashes between insurgents and the Lebanese army, police, Hezbollah fighters who are allied with Damascus, and Syrian troops.

On Saturday four Hezbollah guerrillas and five Syrian soldiers were killed in clashes with militants from al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. As Damascus has increased pressure on Islamic State fighters based in the Qalamoun mountains on the border, they have been trying to capture Lebanese villages as alternative bases.

In August, the two groups attacked the town of Arsal and took 29 Lebanese soldiers and police hostage. Amman has also limited the number of Syrians taking refuge in Jordan.