UNRWA Says Lebanon Still Barring Palestinians Fleeing Syria

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said Lebanon was still denying entry to Palestinians fleeing the war in neighboring Syria Wednesday, despite its insistence there was "no decision" to keep them out.

"UNRWA has been monitoring the situation at the crossing point at Masnaa between Lebanon and Syria and can report that no Palestine refugees from Syria have been allowed into Lebanon today and that some families trying to cross have been refused entry," said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.

"We have been given assurances by the Lebanese authorities that these restrictions are temporary. We hope that they will be lifted within the next few days," he said.

On Tuesday, Lebanon's Central Security Council, comprised of the interior minister and the chiefs of security agencies, agreed "there is absolutely no decision to bar them from entry, and the border is open to them."

It asked the General Directorate of General Security to “suggest a mechanism that would regulate the entry of Syrians and Syria-based Palestinian refugees into Lebanon according to clear standards.”

The statement came after the U.N. and Human Rights Watch expressed concern over "increased restrictions" on fleeing Palestinians entering Lebanon.

Lebanon has not signed the international refugee convention, but has generally kept its border open to people fleeing the conflict in Syria despite the scale of the influx.

Lebanon hosts more refugees from Syria than any other country, with 52,000 Palestinians among a total of more than a million. It now has the highest refugee population per capita in the world.

On Wednesday, Gunness reiterated a U.N. Security Council call to the international community "to support countries neighboring Syria in assisting refugees and affected communities."

Human rights activists say Palestinians in Syria, who once numbered 500,000, have been targeted by both sides in the conflict, making them one of the country's more vulnerable groups.

Syria's most populous Palestinian district, Yarmuk in south Damascus, has been under blockade by the army since last year and trapped civilians have received only very limited supplies of food and medicines organized by UNRWA and other agencies.

Turkey and Jordan, which also host large numbers of refugees from Syria, have barred entry to Palestinians.

Source: Agence France Presse, Naharnet

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