Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim Ali denied Thursday that Syrians are now required to obtain visas to be able to enter Lebanon, reiterating his call for “coordination” between the two countries regarding border measures.
“There can't be visas between Syria and Lebanon,” Ali stressed after talks with Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain al-Tineh.
Lebanon had on Monday begun imposing the entry restrictions on Syrians, including those fleeing their country's civil war.
But Ali quoted Berri as saying that “this issue is merely a process to organize” the entry of Syrians.
“It must be in coordination between the two countries, and Syria has always stressed the need for understanding and coordination,” Ali added.
Berri and Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas had earlier stressed that the measures don't apply to Syrian refugees, noting that the procedures are limited to filling in a card that specifies the aim behind the visit of any Syrian and not a visa restriction.
“The measures don't involve Syrians who hold a refugee cards and are registered by the U.N. refugee agency” UNHCR, Derbas said in comments published in As Safir newspaper on Thursday.
He pointed out that Syrians only have to specify the aim behind their visit to Lebanon, denying that the new entry measures are racist.
“We want to reduce the influx of Syrians as the country can't handle anymore the social and economic burden imposed by the inflow,” Derbas told the daily.
Berri's visitors quoted him as saying in comments published in Ad Diyar newspaper that the entry requirements are not a visa restriction but rather “a process to organize the entry of Syrians.”
The speaker also stressed the importance of coordinating the matter with the Syrian state.
The entry restrictions are the first in the history of the two countries and come as Lebanon struggles to deal with more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
The influx has tested the country's limited resources, as well as the patience of its citizens, particularly as security has deteriorated.
For months, Lebanon's government has sounded the alarm, warning the international community that it could no longer deal with the influx.
Starting October, the government said Lebanon would stop accepting displaced Syrians, with exceptions on humanitarian grounds only.
A U.N. report said on Wednesday that Lebanon is hosting the largest number of new refugee arrivals between January and June 2014.
UNHCR said Lebanon shot up from being the 69th largest refugee-hosting country to second largest within just three and a half years.
Al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Thursday that the new entry restrictions were highlighted during a meeting between head of the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council Nasri Khoury and General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.
Khoury reportedly conveyed to Ibrahim the Syrian government's stance on the measures.
The two officials also discussed the circumstances that prompted Lebanon to take such measures against Syrians.
Syria's ambassador Ali has said his country understood the new rules, but urged "coordination" with Damascus.
The new rules raise the prospect of Syrians being unable to flee the violence that has killed more than 200,000 people since March 2011.
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