Derbas Says Visa Rules Aim to Differentiate between Syrian Refugees, Visitors

Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas has said new regulations to impose visa restrictions on Syrians are aimed at differentiating between refugees and visitors.

The authorities are compelled to “organize the entry and exit of Syrians as part of the implementation of the new security strategy,” Derbas told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat in remarks published on Sunday.

The minister said the state has not blocked any border crossing or expelled any Syrian refugee.

The government is ready to coordinate with the Syrian authorities about the return of refugees to their country's safer areas, he said.

But such a request has not yet received a positive response from Damascus, Derbas added.

Syria's ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim Ali called on Saturday for coordination with Lebanese authorities.

Ali said Damascus understands the new measures but that "the issue of Syrians entering and leaving needs coordination and integration between the concerned parties in the two countries.”

On Sunday, Ali told al-Mayadeen television that Damascus was not "notified in advance" of Lebanon's decision.

"The measure is not appropriate," he lamented.

The new visa regulations, which lay out various categories, including for tourism and medical treatment, come into effect on Monday.

This is the first time that Lebanon has required Syrians to apply for visas. Citizens of both countries have been able to travel freely across their shared border since Lebanon gained independence in 1943.

For Lebanon, the flood of refugees escaping the civil war in their country, has placed a tremendous strain on the country's economy, resources, infrastructure and delicate sectarian balance.

There are around 1.5 million displaced Syrians in the country of about 4.5 million.

Lebanon began imposing tighter restrictions in October when the government announced that it will not accept any more Syrian refugees except for what it deemed to be "exceptional" cases.

Since then, the number of refugee registrations in Lebanon has considerably dropped.

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