Syrian options for escape just got worse

Syrian options for escape just got worse
3 min read
05 January, 2015
Lebanon has admitted more than 1.5m Syrian refugees during the civil war. But a new law will make it harder for others to follow.
Millions of Syrians have left the country, fleeing bombing and fighting [AFP-Gety]

Lebanon has decided to drop the country's refugee visa, which has allowed 1.5 million to cross the border and escape the war in Syria.

In April 2014, it was reported that more than a quarter of Lebanon's population were Syrian refugees.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Syrian conflict, now approaching its fifth year, has left more than 200,000 dead and millions homeless.

Regulating entry 

The General Directorate of General Security in Lebanon said Syrians could now only enter Lebanon if they obtained a visa as a tourist, student, business visitor, property owner, or for medical treatment.

They can also enter if they have pending applications at foreign embassies, or are transitting through Lebanon.

The new arrangement allows Lebanese citizens to "sponsor" refugees. This will affect the most vulnerable Syrians who have no business, property, or finances in Lebanon, and grants greater powers to Lebanese sponsors and employers.

The sponsorship system absolves the Lebanese government of responsibility for the wellbeing of refugees, shifting it to sponsors and raising fears of exploitation.

'Regulating, not restricting'

An official source in the Lebanese government told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the new laws did not affect refugees already in the country.

However Nabil al-Halabi, the director of the Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, said that anyone who returned to Syria would face the new requirements of re-entry into Lebanon.

Halabi told al-Araby that this was consistent with existing legal frameworks and was not incompatible with human rights, provided that it was applied "without arbitrariness and follows clear standards".

Firas al-Khalidi, the spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Coalition, accused the Lebanese government of racism against Syrians. He said that many anti-Assad regime activists had been arrested and mistreated in Lebanon.

One of many victims has been anti-regime singer Asala Nasri was stopped at Beirut airport in September 2014 and had her passport taken from her before she was allowed to enter Lebanon.

This prompted the Lebanese justice minister, Ashraf Rifi, to intervene and order the prosecutor general to return the singer's passport.

Rifi said such actions showed Lebanon was often acting as a tool of the Syrian regime.

Favourites of Beirut?

In contrast, Syria's interior minister, Mohammad al-Shaar, was sent for surgery in Beirut in January 2013, after being injured in an explosion in Damascus.

MPs from the Future Movement had called for his arrest due to his suspected involvement in the Syrian assault on Tripoli in 1986, when a group in the north Lebanese city supported the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, had also sought treatment in the country and then left Lebanon with the assistance from the security services.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.