Lebanon All but Bars Palestinians Fleeing Syria
Lebanon has placed prohibitive restrictions on the entry of Palestinians fleeing Syria, making it almost impossible for them to take refuge in the small Mediterranean country.
New measures mean Palestinians fleeing Syria will not be given visas at the border, while those who are already in the country will not have their visas renewed.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page Thursday, Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq said no visas will be issued at the main Masnaa border crossing.
Palestinians living in Syria who wish to enter Lebanon must first request a visa at the Lebanese embassy in Damascus. The request will be processed by the Lebanese General Security agency.
Only those with a residence permit in Lebanon will be admitted, the minister said.
Mashnouq also announced that the two-week visas previously granted to Palestinians fleeing Syria would no longer be renewable.
Mashnouq said Palestinians from Syria have the right to a 24-hour transit visa, allowing people to travel to or from Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport, if they have a valid ticket and visa or residence permit in another country.
Lebanon has not signed the international refugee convention, but had 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.
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 most 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.
Turkey and Jordan, which also host large numbers of refugees from Syria, have barred entry to Palestinians.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said Thursday that, "since 9 am no Palestine refugees from Syria have been allowed to cross into Lebanon".
Agency spokesman Chris Gunness appealed to Lebanese authorities not to block those in need of sanctuary.
"It is essential that civilians fleeing Syria and seeking safety and protection are granted access and not returned in circumstances where their lives would be at risk."